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Posts Sling Baseless Claims at Judge in Defamation Case Against Trump

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Quick Take

Misinformation peddlers baselessly claim a judge who presided over the defamation case that ended with an $83 million verdict against former President Donald Trump is linked to sex trafficking, noting that the judge dismissed a case related to Jeffrey Epstein. But the Epstein-related case was settled by the parties, and the defamation verdict was rendered by a jury.

Full Story

A federal judge in New York oversaw a 2021 case related to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein as well as the recent defamation trial that ended with an $83.3 million verdict against former President Donald Trump.

Now, in an effort to criticize the outcome of Trump’s trial, partisan misinformation peddlers are baselessly citing the earlier case as an indication that the judge was connected to Epstein in a nefarious way. There’s nothing to support that claim.

Posts are circulating on social media with unsubstantiated claims that the judge “was involved in sex trafficking” or “is linked” to Epstein.

Many of these posts feature comments made by Patrick Bet-David, who runs a conservative media business that we’ve written about before.

He said on the Jan. 26 episode of his podcast that U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York dismissed the Epstein-related case without going to trial, “yet Trump’s [case] — $83.3 million.” Bet-David later said, “I’m sorry man, this is ‘American Gangster,’ connect the dots. … There’s motive, the motive is linked to [former President Bill] Clinton, to Epstein, protecting the enemy. Protecting the bad guy and going after the good guy.”

Clinton nominated Kaplan to the federal bench in 1994. But some of those who have shared Bet-David’s claim have amplified the false suggestion that Clinton had been a party to the 2021 litigation in front of Kaplan that involved Epstein. The civil suit concerned Britain’s Prince Andrew.

For example, one Instagram post that shared a clip from Bet-David’s podcast also included text that said, “The judge that just made Trump pay $83.3 million – Let Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton go relating to Epstein.”

Clinton wasn’t a party to the suit against Andrew, but he is often invoked in relation to Epstein conspiracy theories, since he is among the powerful people who associated with Epstein. It’s worth noting that Trump, too, had associated with Epstein.

Bet-David’s claim misrepresents how the 2021 case unfolded and misleadingly equates it with the outcome of the recent Trump trial, which was decided by a jury, not the judge.

Settlement in Epstein-Related Case

In 2021, Virginia Giuffre — who accused Epstein of running a sex-trafficking ring for himself and his powerful friends — filed a civil suit alleging that one of those friends, Prince Andrew, sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager and caused her emotional distress.

Andrew settled the suit in 2022 without admitting liability.

The amount he paid wasn’t disclosed, but reports in the British press have estimated that it was anywhere from $3.8 million to $15 million.

A joint letter submitted to the court at the time of the settlement by attorneys for Andrew and Giuffre said, in part:

“Prince Andrew intends to make a substantial donation to Ms. Giuffre’s charity in support of victims’ rights. Prince Andrew has never intended to malign Ms. Giuffre’s character, and he accepts that she has suffered both as an established victim of abuse and as a result of unfair public attacks.”

Since Andrew and Giuffre agreed to settle without going to trial, Kaplan followed standard procedure and dismissed the case.

That routine judicial action is now fodder for misinformation peddlers who claim it shows that Kaplan was connected to Epstein or acted favorably toward him in the case. But, as we said, there’s nothing to support that claim.

Jury’s Finding in Trump Trial

Kaplan also presided at the trial that recently ended with an $83.3 million verdict against Trump.

A jury found Trump liable in 2023 for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s and later defaming her, awarding her a $5 million verdict. Trump continued to deny the allegations, and during a town hall discussion aired on CNN shortly after that verdict, Trump called Carroll a “whack job.” She then added Trump’s statement’s following the verdict to an ongoing a defamation suit.

The jury in the defamation case found in Carroll’s favor on Jan. 26 and awarded her $83.3 million in damages.

To be clear, Kaplan was not responsible for finding Trump liable or for the amount of damages awarded to Carroll. The jury decided both.

In a jury trial, the judge decides what evidence can be presented and instructs the jury on matters of law, including the burden of proof that must be present to find a defendant at fault. “A judge is similar to a referee in a game, they are not there to play for one side or the other but to make sure the entire process is played fairly,” the U.S. Department of Justice has explained.

So, it’s misleading to compare the outcomes of these two cases. The first was settled by the two sides, which caused its dismissal, and the second was decided by a jury. Neither outcome indicates any bias by the judge or any link to Epstein.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.


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