A US judge on Tuesday appeared sceptical of a bid by Britain's Prince Andrew to dismiss Virginia Giuffre's lawsuit accusing the Duke of York of sexually abusing her when she was 17 and being trafficked by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.
US District Judge Lewis Kaplan is assessing a November 2009 settlement agreement in Florida between Epstein and Ms Giuffre, which the prince's lawyers have said shields Andrew from claims by the 38-year-old Giuffre.
Andrew Brettler, the prince's lawyer, contended that Queen Elizabeth's second son was among the "potential defendants" who Ms Giuffre released from liability when she accepted $500,000 to settle with Epstein.
"'Potential defendant' is someone who could have been named a defendant in that lawsuit, but was not," Mr Brettler said during a hearing before the judge.
"I think it's unquestionable that Prince Andrew could have been sued in the 2009 Florida action."
But the judge said the "real question" is what Ms Giuffre and Epstein intended in entering the settlement.
"We're talking about whether there are two or more reasonable interpretations," Mr Kaplan told Mr Brettler.
"I understand your point of view. I understand the other point of view."
Mr Kaplan said he would rule "pretty soon."
The 2009 agreement included a general release that would “forever discharge” various people who “could have been included as a potential defendant” in a civil lawsuit that Ms Giuffre had filed against Epstein in Florida, where the financier also had a home.
It did not name any person by name. Epstein was to pay Ms Giuffre $500,000 without admitting liability under the settlement agreement, which was made public on Monday.
Prince Andrew has also accused Ms Giuffre of seeking another “payday” in her campaign against Epstein and former associates like Maxwell, from whom she sought $50 million in a since-settled 2015 defamation lawsuit.
Prince Andrew's ties to Epstein have cost him many royal duties and damaged his reputation, including after critics said that in a 2019 BBC interview, he failed to appear sympathetic to Epstein's abuse victims.
Andrew has denied Ms Giuffre's accusations that he forced her to have sex at the London home of former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, and abused her at two other Epstein properties. The prince has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.
Epstein killed himself at age 66 in a Manhattan jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Maxwell was convicted on December 29 of recruiting and grooming girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004. Ms Giuffre's accusations were not part of that case, and she did not give evidence.