U.S. judge on Strauss-Kahn case: just another trial
NEW YORK — For some, the New York civil case in which a hotel maid is suing ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn alleging sexual assault will be a blockbuster trial with global repercussions.
But for veteran Judge Douglas McKeon, who will preside, it’s just a typical civil trial.
The lawsuit by New York maid Nafissatou Diallo is set to go before the Bronx Supreme Court March 28 after a series of delays.
“We’ll do the same here as we do on any other civil case,” the 63-year-old judge told AFP in an interview in his court chambers overlooking Yankee Stadium.
The first order of business for the judge will be to consider a motion to dismiss the case on the basis of diplomatic immunity.
Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers argue that because at the time of the alleged attack he was head of the International Monetary Fund, he is shielded from civil suits.
“I’ll give each of the attorneys an opportunity to present their side of the argument, and I’ll ask questions of them, and then within several weeks thereafter I’ll issue a decision,” the judge said, without commenting on the merits of the case.
The civil case is another chapter in the saga involving Strauss-Kahn that began last May. Amid considerable international attention, the judge has agreed to allow pooled camera and video feeds from the courtroom.
Strauss-Kahn, who had been among the world’s most prominent economic officials, was arrested and faced the possibility of a lengthy prison term over the alleged May 14 incident in which the immigrant maid said she was sexually assaulted in his hotel suite.
But weeks later, New York prosecutors dropped charges, saying the maid had credibility problems.
The same allegations will be in evidence at the civil trial — which could prove a further embarrassment to a man seen until recently as a frontrunner to be the next president of France.
Strauss-Kahn has said what happened in his seven-minute encounter was a “moral failing of which I am not proud” but insisted police found “no scratches, no wounds, no sign of violence” on the maid’s body. He has not elaborated on what precisely had happened in the suite.
Civil proceedings in the United States are usually drawn out and can take years at times. Neither Strauss-Kahn nor his accuser are required to attend the hearing.
McKeon said the case would follow typical civil procedures — each of the parties and other key witnesses will give sworn depositions, and a “discovery” phase will allow each side to view or challenge evidence that may be used at trial.
If the case is not dismissed, “once that process is completed and the case is basically ready for trial, there will a period of time during which there’ll be discussion about perhaps settling the case,” the judge said.
If there is no settlement, the case will be given a trial date.
“Not all cases, because of their particular facts, are able to be settled as soon as we might like,” the judge said.
“But we’re forever keeping that particular option open and exploring it, as we do in every case. This would be no exception.”
McKeon said he believed the case would be completed quicker than many anticipate.
“I don’t believe it will take years. I would anticipate once discovery begins in this case it should be completed within a year to 15 months.”
It was a heavy responsibility to be a judge in a community where he grew up and which has some of the city’s poorest and toughest neighborhoods, he added.
“I was born in the Bronx, I’ve lived my entire life in the Bronx,” he said.
“I have been given the honor of representing my neighbors, and I believe it is important to live with your neighbors and not represent a community where you don’t live.”
DSK, as he is known in France, now faces legal proceedings on both sides of the Atlantic next month. He has been summoned to appear before investigating magistrates in the northern city of Lille — also on March 28 — on charges linked to prostitution and corruption.
The New York civil suit seeks unspecified damages from Strauss-Kahn, who is married to a wealthy journalist.
Friends of Strauss-Kahn have claimed a conspiracy to bring him down, removing what had been seen as a viable challenge to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Strauss-Kahn has also been accused by 32-year-old French writer Tristane Banon of attempting to rape her in 2003. Prosecutors decided there was prima facie evidence of a sexual assault, but ruled that the statute of limitations had passed.