Prince Andrew has repeatedly denied these allegations and claimed that he does not remember meeting Joffrey.
In a devastating setback for the Prince that shaped a potential courtroom showdown later this year, Judge Louis A. Kaplan categorically rejected his attempt to dismiss the case in a 44-page ruling published Wednesday.
Judge Kaplan wrote: “Ms. Joffrey’s complaint is neither ‘incomprehensible’ nor ‘vague’ nor ‘vague’.” It alleges sporadic incidents of sexual assault in certain circumstances at three identifiable locations. It determines who to blame for this sexual abuse.”
A source close to Prince Andrew told CNN on Thursday that the 61-year-old would “continue to defend himself” against the lawsuit against him. “Given the force with which Judge Kaplan received our arguments, we were not surprised by the ruling. However, it was not a judgment on the merits of Joffrey’s allegations,” the source said.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Duke will continue to defend himself against these allegations,” the source added.
A royal source told CNN that all of the duke’s roles have been returned to the 95-year-old king with immediate redistribution effect to other members of the royal family. The source added that Andrew would no longer use the “His Royal Highness” style in any official capacity.
Prince Andrew is facing trial
For many legal experts, the writing was hanging on the wall before both sides presented their arguments to Judge Kaplan last week.
George Lederman, special counsel on the defense and investigations team at Withers International, says the refusals are “rarely successful.”
He explains: “All the plaintiff needs to prove that the claim is defeated is that it has satisfied all the elements necessary to make a claim on which relief can be granted. This is a low threshold, and as Judge Kaplan wrote in his ruling, Joffrey in her complaint has already fulfilled all the elements necessary to explain the sexual assault claim.”
“As long as the plaintiff has defended her case in privacy, it is very difficult for the defendant to prevail at this point,” New York University law professor Melissa Murray told CNN.
In addition, it appeared abundantly clear at the hearing that Judge Kaplan was skeptical of the Duke’s claim that he had been relieved of liability under the terms of the 2009 agreement between Joffrey and Epstein.
Andrew’s lawyers argued that Prince was protected from litigation by Joffrey because of a settlement agreement she signed with Epstein in Florida, in which she agreed to a “general disclaimer” of lawsuits against Epstein and others.
The prince’s legal team had hoped the agreement would be a trump card. But Murray says that in his ruling, Kaplan noted that “both sides offered ‘reasonable interpretations’ of the meaning of the settlement” and “because the agreement was vague, the judge concluded that ‘determining the meaning of release language in 2009 must await further action’.”
Wednesday’s ruling confirms that the embattled king is locked in a protracted and awkward legal battle that will undoubtedly cast a dark shadow over his mother’s platinum jubilee year when she celebrates 70 years on the throne.
In the coming days, Murray says, the case could move toward the discovery phase, where both sides can demand the disclosure of documents and reports needed to substantiate their claims or defenses.
During discovery, Murray explains, “the parties may also be asked to sit for statements or provide written answers to interrogations.”
“A lot of the evidence produced during the discovery phase may become part of a public record as the case continues to trial,” she adds.
Prince Andrew has until July 14 to answer questions about the case under oath, following a scheduling arrangement set by Kaplan last year. If the case is not settled, he could face a trial date between September and December 2022.
Professor Felicity Geary, a British lawyer and international legal expert, says the trial schedule and discovery dates on both sides are part of “a normal legal process and judges are often required to determine whether each party has complied with the expectation of further hearings along the way.”
And as the path toward trial continues, the Duke has some legal options he can pursue, according to legal experts. However, each road becomes increasingly unattractive if he hopes to clear his name, and thus restore his tarnished reputation.
He can appeal the judge’s decision. Murray says she doesn’t think the Duke’s legal team would take this approach because the appeals court would apply the same legal standards as Kaplan. “I think it is very unlikely that the appeals court will reach a different conclusion on this case,” she says.
If he doesn’t appeal and also doesn’t get involved in the discovery process and ignores Kaplan’s timeline, it could expose him to a potential court-mandated default judgment, according to CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson.
He can try to fight the allegations in court during the trial, but this is a risky strategy.
“If the trial starts, the dirty laundry will now be aired,” says Jackson. “He has every right to say ‘I didn’t do this, I don’t remember who you are, I don’t remember the picture I took with you.’ She, of course, would say, ‘Yes, that’s what happened, that’s what happened.'”
Several legal analysts CNN spoke to indicated that pursuing an out-of-court settlement might now be Andrew’s best option.
“Given the risks of proceeding with trial, the Duke may attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement with Joffrey, assuming she is able to resolve the case by settlement,” Murray says.
“While this would avoid public disclosure of embarrassing evidence (from both sides) it may be seen by some as an admission of misconduct, contrasting with a previous television interview where the Duke denied any allegations of wrongdoing.”
Mark Stevens, a media attorney at London-based Howard Kennedy, says Andrew is in a “horrific situation” and has no choice but to try to resolve the case through a settlement.
“One of the reasons why he hasn’t settled yet is because he knows the general public will consider that he made the mistakes he was accused of, or some of the mistakes,” Stephens adds. “We are beyond the possibility of Prince Andrew rehabilitating his reputation in the public eye, and the only thing he can do now to prevent it from getting worse is to settle the matter.”
But the question is whether Joffrey would be willing to accept a settlement or fight it in court.
“There’s another issue because, of course, it’s not his talent to solve,” Stephens adds. “He needs an agreement between him and Virginia Joffrey. And I think she feels there’s an element of victim-blaming in this particular case, and she might want to spend her day in court, and she might want to be acquitted.”
“I think it is very important to Virginia Joffrey that this issue is resolved in a way that justifies her and justifies the acquittal of the other victims,” he said. “I don’t think she has a solid view of what exactly the solution should be.” “But I think what will be important is that this decision justifies her and substantiates the claim she made.”
CNN’s Eric Levinson and Lauren Del Valle contributed to this report.