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Appeals court orders circuit judge to consider releasing Jeffrey Epstein info

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TALLAHSSEE - In a case filed by The Palm Beach Post, an appeals court Wednesday ordered a circuit judge to consider releasing information from grand-jury proceedings about the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

A panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal said a circuit judge improperly relied on a legal rule to deny the Post's request to release the information. 

While the appeals court said grand-jury proceedings are generally secret, it pointed to an exception in state law that allows disclosure for the purpose of "furthering justice." 

The ruling did not specifically direct the release of information but ordered a circuit judge to privately inspect the requested material and "decide whether the material's disclosure furthers justice. 

If so, the court has the inherent authority to disclose any material that furthers justice. 

In doing so, the trial court shall take steps necessary to protect the identity of the victims, witnesses, and those who have not been criminally charged. 

If the court determines disclosure of any of the material will not further justice, the court can, in its discretion, deny disclosure of that material.

The ruling by Judges Melanie May, Cory Ciklin and Jeffrey Kuntz also took a step known as "certifying" a question to the Florida Supreme Court. 

That question would ask the Supreme Court to determine whether a circuit court has "inherent authority to disclose grand jury evidence to further justice" under the state law. 

Under a deal approved by prosecutors in 2007, Epstein, a wealthy financier, sidestepped federal charges and agreed to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges, including procuring a minor for sex. 

The plea deal also provided immunity from federal prosecution for Epstein, four other named co-conspirators and "any potential co-conspirators."

After the plea agreement on state charges, Epstein was arrested in July 2019 and charged with federal sex-trafficking offenses involving minor girls from Florida and other places. 

He was found dead in a jail cell a month later in what was deemed a suicide. 

The Post filed the lawsuit against the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office and the Palm Beach County clerk of the circuit court seeking the grand-jury material. 

The state attorney was later dropped as a defendant, according to Wednesday's ruling.

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