By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK, Nov 21 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday rebuked Jeffrey Epstein's estate for keeping the late financier's alleged victims in the dark about a fund that would compensate them for claims of sexual abuse.
The estate, facing at least 14 lawsuits from women, has proposed creating a fund to resolve the allegations out of court.
Epstein, 66, hanged himself in a Manhattan jail in August while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges.
Bennet Moskowitz, a lawyer for the estate, told Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman on Thursday that the fund was an "extraordinary opportunity" for the alleged victims, though he could not say how much money would be available.
Roberta Kaplan, one of the attorneys for the women, said she was met with "radio silence" when she had tried to discuss a settlement with the estate. She said it was "incredibly disrespectful" to propose the fund without hearing from the alleged victims.
Judge Freeman agreed the women must have more to say about any settlement process, adding it could not be "unilateral."
"For cases to settle, there has to be not just interest on both sides, there have to be seats at the table on both sides," the judge said. Freeman ordered both sides to confer and report on their progress by Jan. 10.
One of the women's lawyers, Brad Edwards, said he may file "dozens" more lawsuits against the estate.
Epstein had pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges involving dozens of underage girls at his mansions on Manhattan's Upper East Side and in Palm Beach, Florida, over several years.
He previously escaped federal prosecution by pleading guilty in 2008 to Florida state prostitution charges, an agreement now widely considered too lenient.
Epstein's friends once included U.S. President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew, none of whom has been criminally accused of wrongdoing. The prince stepped down from public duties on Wednesday after an interview he gave about his association with Epstein drew widespread criticism. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)
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