The Palm Beach judge who has thus far refused to release grand jury records in the Jeffrey Epstein case has both professional and family ties to three of the politicians who have a stake in keeping those records secret, the Miami Herald has learned.
Krista Marx, the Palm Beach chief judge who also heads a panel that polices judicial conduct, has potential conflicts of interest involving three prominent players embroiled in the Epstein sex-trafficking saga: State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who has been sued by the Palm Beach Post to release the grand jury records; Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, whose department’s favored treatment of Epstein while he was in the Palm Beach County jail is part of an ongoing state criminal investigation; and ex-State Attorney Barry Krischer, part of the same investigation in connection with his decision not to prosecute Epstein on child-sex charges.
Special prosecutors appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went to court in January to unseal records of Krischer’s secret 2006 state grand jury presentment in the case.
Prosecutors wanted to examine whether Krischer’s office told the panel the full scope of Epstein’s crimes, or whether state prosecutors kept key evidence from the grand jury. The grand jury returned a minor charge of solicitation of prostitution against Epstein, who later managed to negotiate a lenient plea deal, resulting in him serving 13 months in the Palm Beach County Jail, much of at his lavish office in West Palm Beach, thanks to generous work-release provisions.
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Last year, following a series of stories in the Miami Herald detailing the machinations behind Epstein’s plea deal, DeSantis ordered a state criminal probe focusing on Krischer’s decision not to prosecute and on Bradshaw’s role in helping Epstein maintain an opulent lifestyle — including having sex with women — while subject to sheriff’s custody on sex charges.
But Marx in January rejected the criminal prosecutors’ effort to unseal the grand jury records, calling it a “fishing expedition.’’ Then on Wednesday, she rebuffed a similar request by attorneys representing the Post, who sued Aronberg, and the county clerk, Sharon Bock, for release of the records.
Victims of Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse voice their outrage in court
Marx was dismissive of the Post’s lawsuit against Aronberg, who has denied he has custody of the grand jury records; and Bock, who has custody of the records but won’t release them without a court order.
Marx, however, did not disclose from the bench that Krischer was her former boss, that her daughter works for Aronberg as an assistant state attorney and that her son works for Bradshaw as a sheriff’s deputy.
Marx’s husband, Palm Beach County Judge Joe Marx, has a disclosure on his county web page stating he would recuse himself from any cases that involve his two stepchildren. Krista Marx’s county web page does not have such a disclosure.
Marx, a six-term elected judge, chairs Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, the state agency that polices judges and handles complaints filed against judges.
The Miami Herald reached Krista Marx on her cell phone late Friday. She instructed a reporter to send her questions via text.
Shortly after, she sent the following:
“A judge is prohibited from commenting on open cases. It is a clear rule of the judicial canons. See cnn 3 (B) 9.”
Krischer did not respond to a request for comment.
Neither the attorney for the Palm Beach Post nor the criminal prosecutor handling the state probe were aware of Marx’s work for Krischer.
The attorneys would not comment on the record, but confirmed they didn’t know that Marx, a six-term elected judge, had worked as an assistant state attorney for Krischer from 1992 to 1998.
In 2012, Marx weighed running for state attorney herself, then decided against it after supporters of Aronberg, the only other candidate, indicated they would file an ethics complaint against her and also run a candidate against her husband, who was up for re-election, the Post reported at the time. Judges in Palm Beach County rarely face opposition and such reelection contests, when they do occur, are costly and time consuming.
Despite his denials, Aronberg, who won that year and has been state attorney ever since, had a “direct, personal role’’ in the events that led Marx to drop her bid, the Post found in 2012.
The Miami Herald could not reach Aronberg for comment.
The Post investigation showed that Aronberg’s campaign manager prepared a five-point public records request in an effort to obtain information detrimental to Marx. Aronberg emailed the request himself to an associate, the paper found. The issue involved soliciting political support from practicing attorneys, the Post said.
The records request was never filed, but Aronberg’s campaign manager acknowledged that he drafted the request to obtain information on Marx because she was planning to challenge Aronberg. Both the campaign manager and Aronberg, however, denied knowing anything about what the Post described as a “threat” to damage Krista Marx’s campaign.
At the time, Marx acknowledged that she was warned by political operatives that several lawyers were preparing to file an ethics complaint against her for soliciting political support from them.
“A complaint would be filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission and could entail an investigation and hearing that Marx supporters say would have stained her reputation, even if she were exonerated,’’ the Post wrote.
Aronberg, a former member of the Florida Senate and a regular commentator on MSNBC, has said he doesn’t have custody of the 2006 grand jury records. He is a close ally of Krischer, who served on Aronberg’s transitional committee and has done some unspecified “volunteer work’’ in Aronberg’s office, the Post has reported.
A spokesman for Aronberg said that Krischer is not an assistant state attorney in his office. But when asked to clarify what role, if any, Krischer has had during Aronberg’s tenure as state attorney, the spokesman did not respond.
Krischer is also a paid “volunteer’’ in Bradshaw’s sheriff’s department. Public records show he has earned over $112,000 in that capacity.
The original handling of the Epstein case a decade ago stands as a flagrant example of the corrosive effects of power, wealth and privilege on the criminal justice system. Epstein avoided prison despite dozens of young women and girls telling authorities he sexually abused them.
During Epstein’s short stint in the county jail, the multimillionaire was given expansive work-release privileges that are rarely, if ever, afforded to sex offenders in Florida. Bradshaw, one of the most powerful figures in Palm Beach politics, has denied he had a direct role in Epstein’s treatment.
The fight over the grand jury records — with its backdrop of ties between keys players — illustrates the peculiar nature of Florida politics, where behind-the-scenes power brokers and consultants, fueled by money, can decide who runs for office, which incumbents face challengers and which do not, and who is rewarded with political appointments and jobs.
“The system is one that the good ‘ol boys have built for 20 or 30 years. And now, it’s in jeopardy over this case,’’ said Jose Lambiet, a former writer for the Post who covered gossip and politics, including the Epstein scandal, for many years. He also wrote a column for the Miami Herald and is now a private investigator.
“Marx needs to recuse herself and anything that is done in the Epstein case should be in a different county.’’
The Epstein case is a reminder of the depraved milieu from which our president sprang.
On Monday, Donald Trump disinvited the then-British ambassador, Kim Darroch, from an official administration dinner with the emir of Qatar, because he was mad about leaked cables in which Darroch assessed the president as “insecure” and “incompetent.”
There was room at the dinner, however, for Trump’s friend Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who was charged in a prostitution sting this year. Kraft was allegedly serviced at a massage parlor that had once been owned by Li Yang, known as Cindy, a regular at Trump’s club Mar-a-Lago. Yang is now the target of an F.B.I. inquiry into whether she funneled Chinese money into Trump’s political operation.
An ordinary president would not want to remind the world of the Kraft and Yang scandals at a time when Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest has hurled Trump’s other shady associations back into the limelight. Epstein, indicted on charges of abusing and trafficking underage girls, was a friend of Trump’s until the two had a falling out, reportedly over a failed business deal. The New York Times reported on a party Trump threw at Mar-a-Lago whose only guests were him, Epstein and around two dozen women “flown in to provide the entertainment.”
Epstein, of course, was also linked to the administration in another way. The president’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, was the United States attorney who oversaw a secret, obscenely lenient deal that let Epstein escape federal charges for sex crimes over a decade ago. On Friday, two days after a tendentious, self-serving news conference defending his handling of the Epstein case, Acosta finally resigned.
Even with Acosta gone, however, Epstein remains a living reminder of the depraved milieu from which the president sprang, and of the corruption and misogyny that continue to swirl around him. Trump has been only intermittently interested in distancing himself from that milieu. More often he has sought, whether through strategy or instinct, to normalize it.
This weekend, Trump National Doral, one of the president’s Florida clubs, planned to host a fund-raiser allowing golfers to bid on strippers to serve as their caddies. Though the event was canceled when it attracted too much attention, it’s at once astounding and not surprising at all that it was approved in the first place.
In truth, a stripper auction is tame by the standard of gross Trump stories, since at least the women were willing. Your eyes would glaze over if I tried to list every Trump associate implicated in the beating or sexual coercion of women. Still, it’s worth reviewing a few lowlights, because it’s astonishing how quickly the most lurid misdeeds fade from memory, supplanted by new degradations.
Acosta, you’ll remember, got his job because Trump’s previous pick, Andrew Puzder, withdrew following the revelation that his ex-wife, pseudonymous and in disguise, had appeared on an Oprah episode about “High Class Battered Women.” (She later retracted her accusations.)
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was once charged with domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. (The case was dropped when his former wife failed to appear in court.) After Bill Shine, a former co-president of Fox News, was forced from his job for his involvement in Fox’s sprawling sexual harassment scandals, Trump hired him.
The White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned last year after it was revealed that both of his ex-wives had accused him of abuse. The White House speechwriter David Sorensen resigned after his ex-wife came forward with stories of his violence toward her.
Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fund-raiser who became the Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman, resigned last year amid news that he’d paid $1.6 million as hush money to a former playboy model, Shera Bechard, who said she’d had an abortion after he got her pregnant. (In a lawsuit, Bechard said Broidy had been violent.) The casino mogul Steve Wynn, whom Trump installed as the R.N.C.’s finance chairman, resigned amid accusations that he’d pressured his employees for sex. He remains a major Republican donor.
In 2017, Trump tapped the former chief executive of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then The Washington Post discovered a report from a Department of Labor investigation into Myers’s company, which found a culture of “widespread sexual harassment” that was “severe and pervasive.” The Senate hasn’t yet voted on Myers’s nomination, but the administration hasn’t withdrawn it.
And just this week, a senior military officer came forward to accuse Gen. John Hyten, Trump’s nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of derailing her career when she turned down his sexual advances. “My life was ruined by this,” she told The Associated Press. (The Air Force reportedly cleared him of misconduct.)
Trump will sometimes jettison men accused of abuse when they become a public relations liability. But his first instinct is empathy, a sentiment he seems otherwise unfamiliar with. In May, he urged Roy Moore, the theocratic Alabama Senate candidate accused of preying on teenage girls, not to run again because he would lose, but added, “I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win.” The president has expressed no sympathy for victims in the Epstein case, but has said he felt bad for Acosta.
Trump seems to understand, at least on a limbic level, that the effect of this cavalcade of scandal isn’t cumulative. Instead, each one eclipses the last, creating a sense of weary cynicism that makes shock impossible to sustain.
It was just three weeks ago that E. Jean Carroll, a well-known writer, accused Trump of what amounted to a violent rape in the mid-1990s, and two friends of hers confirmed that she’d told them about it at the time. In response, Trump essentially said she was too unattractive to rape — “No. 1, she’s not my type” — and claimed that he’d never met her. That was a provable lie; there’s a photograph of them together. It didn’t matter. The story drifted from the headlines within a few days.
Since Epstein’s arrest, many people have wondered how he was able to get away with his alleged crimes for so long, given all that’s publicly known about him. But we also know that the president boasts about sexually assaulting women, that over a dozen have accused him of various sorts of sexual misconduct, and one of them has accused him of rape. We know it, and we know we can’t do anything about it, so we live with it and grow numb. Maybe someday justice will come and a new generation will wonder how we tolerated behavior that was always right out in the open.
There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. We celebrate sweat and stamina. We downplay the schemers, the short cuts and the subterfuge. But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore.
.. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. For those unfamiliar with the tale, which the journalist John Carreyrou told brilliantly in “Bad Blood,” she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to pursue her Silicon Valley dream, intent on becoming a billionaire and on claiming the same perch in our culture and popular imagination that Steve Jobs did. She modeled her work habits and management style after his. She dressed as he did, in black turtlenecks. She honed a phony voice, deeper than her real one.
She spoke, with immaculate assurance, of a day when it might be on everyone’s bathroom counter: a time saver, a money saver and quite possibly a lifesaver. She sent early, imperfect versions of it to Walgreens pharmacies, which used it and thus doled out erroneous diagnoses to patients. She blocked peer reviews of it and buried evidence of its failures.
This went on not for months but for years, as Holmes attracted more than $900 million of investment money and lured a breathtakingly distinguished board of directors including two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; a former secretary of defense, William Perry; and a future secretary of defense, James Mattis. What they had before them wasn’t proof or even the sturdy promise of revolutionary technology. It was a self-appointed wunderkind who struck a persuasive pose and talked an amazing game.
She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America.
Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. In an article titled “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley” in Fortune magazine in December 2016, Erin Griffith tallied a list of aborted ventures with more shimmer and swagger than substance, asserting: “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”
One reporter asked Mnuchin of the Trump administration’s decision to send a large delegation to the event: “What is the point of the Trump administration going to a place that is regarded, usually, as a hangout for globalists?”
“Well, I don’t think it’s a hangout for globalists,” Mnuchin shot back.
.. The secretary said the economic team’s purpose at the high-profile gathering “is going to go over and talk about the America First economic strategy.”
President Donald Trump will attend Davos from January 23 to January 26 and it will be lead by Mnuchin. During Thursday’s briefing, Mnuchin said, “We’re thrilled that the president is coming, and I think what we know is that the economy that’s good for the U.S. is good for the rest of the world.”
Other members of the delegation include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Tom Bossert, Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser to the president Jared Kushner, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development Mark Green, and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Scott Gottlieb.
.. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later released a list of additional members that will travel as part of the delegation to Davos: Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn as well as other members of the White House staff. They will be traveling with the president.