‘Public has a right to know’: Lawmakers seek to open Jeffrey Epstein grand jury records
Frustrated by several failed attempts to pry open the records from a Palm Beach County grand jury that examined the activities of Jeffrey Epstein — and then charged him only with minor offenses — two lawmakers have filed legislation to force the documents’ release.
The two Florida legislators — both from Palm Beach County, though members of opposing political parties — have introduced a bill that would make it possible to loosen the grip of grand jury secrecy in the Epstein case without weakening state laws that protect the confidentiality of grand jury proceedings.
The proposed legislation was introduced by state Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat. Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, a freshman Republican from Highland Beach, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. At the moment, the bill has not been assigned to committees in either chamber, and legislative staff members have yet to weigh in on it.
Polsky, who is an attorney and mediator, said the bill was “narrowly tailored” to free up the record of testimony before the Epstein grand jury without jeopardizing the confidentiality of grand jury testimony in other proceedings.
Polsky introduced the legislation at the request of Joseph Abruzzo, a former lawmaker who has served as Palm Beach County’s Clerk of Courts since January 2021. Abruzzo has been looking for a way to make public the Epstein grand jury record, Polsky said, but has been hampered by state law.
“There are a lot of questions about how this case was handled a long time ago,” Polsky said. “None of the players are involved anymore. This bill would not be doing any damage to [court officials formerly involved in the case] or the sanctity of grand jury testimony.”
Abruzzo, Polsky said, “wants to release it. This would give him the tools to get the transparency that he’d like to see, and, certainly, we know the media would like to see, and the general public.”
In a prepared statement, Abruzzo said: “Both the Florida Statutes and the Florida Court’s Rules of Procedure are very clear about what my office can or cannot release related to any case, whether it’s a simple divorce case or high-profile case like the Epstein case.”
“This carefully-crafted bill would allow my office to release the Epstein records, if a judge orders their release, without affecting other grand jury cases in Florida and without upending our state’s court system,” Abruzzo added.
In 2018, the Miami Herald reported that Epstein, a multimillionaire financier, had operated a cult-like network of underage girls who had been coerced to have sex with him either at his Palm Beach waterfront mansion or at other Epstein properties in Manhattan, New Mexico or his private island compound in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Herald series, called Perversion of Justice, documented how Epstein used money and connections to shield himself from meaningful criminal liability.
A Palm Beach County grand jury returned a charge of solicitation of prostitution — an extremely minor offense compared to what had been alleged — against Epstein, whose attorneys then negotiated a deal that resulted in him pleading guilty in 2008 and serving 13 months in that county’s jail. Owing to an extraordinarily generous work-release arrangement, Epstein served much of that time at his luxurious office in West Palm Beach.
Media outlets — including the Herald and the Palm Beach Post — have sought for years to gain the release of witness testimony before the grand jury. Critics of the plea deal, which was executed when Barry Krischer was Palm Beach County’s top prosecutor, long have wondered whether damning testimony was withheld from the grand jury, or whether prosecutors soft-sold the seriousness of Epstein’s conduct.
After the Herald’s publication of Perversion of Justice, federal prosecutors in New York revived an investigation into Epstein and he was arrested. He was awaiting trial in New York when he was found hanged in his cell in August 2019. The death was ruled a suicide.
Ghislaine Maxwell, a onetime girlfriend accused of procuring and scheduling girls for Epstein, was arrested on charges of abetting his behavior. She was convicted in December 2021 of sex trafficking and sentenced the following year to 20 years.
In a statement to the Herald, Palm Beach County’s current state attorney, Dave Aronberg, said Friday his office will not oppose the bill.
“Our office supports transparency, which is why three years ago we posted all the public records from the investigation and prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein online. These public records can be accessed through our website,” Aronberg said.
“The case occurred several years and multiple State Attorney administrations before I took office in 2013,” Aronberg added. “I have never seen or had access to the Epstein Grand Jury documents, as the State Attorney’s Office has never possessed them.”
“I applaud Clerk Abruzzo for his push for transparency. I will continue to have no objection to the Clerk’s release of the Epstein Grand Jury records.”
Gossett-Seidman said she was eager to sponsor the bill in the state House after Polsky approached her with the idea. Gossett-Seidman had worked as a journalist and public relations consultant for many years before running for office in Highland Beach, and said she believes strongly in government-in-the-sunshine.
“I thought this was an opportunity to seek the truth and to uphold the public’s right to know what really happened almost 20 years ago in Palm Beach County,” Gossett-Seidman said of the Epstein case.
“This bill provides a chance for legislators to set a pathway for other officials to seek out truth and justice and transparency,” Gossett-Seidman said. “Who wants another Jeffrey Epstein? Nobody.”
She added: “The public has a right to know.”