Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who may learn today that some or all of the criminal charges against him have been dropped, still could face liability in civil court.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has invited Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault and attempted rape, to a meeting to preview tomorrow’s status hearing in the case, according to her lawyers. The New York Times, citing an unidentified person briefed on the matter, said Vance has decided to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Diallo sued Strauss-Kahn this month in New York state court in the Bronx, alleging “violent and deplorable acts” occurred May 14 in his suite in the Sofitel, a midtown Manhattan hotel. She seeks unspecified monetary damages. Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.
In a New York state criminal case, prosecutors have to convince a jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial, the jury may find liability based on a preponderance of the evidence, a less stringent standard. A civil jury can also infer that a defendant who refuses to testify, citing his right not to incriminate himself, has something to hide.
“He’s going to have to answer the questions, and if he refuses to answer the questions, there will be a presumption made against him,” Thomas Curran, a former New York prosecutor and now a lawyer at Peckar & Abramson, said in an interview. “The other option is for him to just not show up to the civil case. And then it becomes a damage quest.”
In the case of O.J. Simpson, the former pro football star accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and another person, a civil jury found him liable for the deaths after another jury acquitted him of murder in the criminal case.
“If there is a dismissal in the criminal case here, it’s the functional equivalent of the acquittal in the O.J. Simpson case,” said Paul Callan, who represented Nicole Brown Simpson’s estate. “Simpson was found liable, or the civil equivalent of guilty, and the jury assessed $35.5 million in damages.”
Callan said Strauss-Kahn could meet a similar fate in the Bronx, where the juries are “notorious for awarding high amounts of damages, particularly when a member of a minority group has been damaged by someone like Strauss-Kahn, someone in a position of power and authority.”
One of Diallo’s lawyers, Kenneth Thompson, told the New York Times that he sees the invitation to today’s meeting as part of a Vance plan to drop some or all of the charges. Thompson didn’t return a call or e-mail from Bloomberg News for comment on that remark.
Vance’s spokeswoman, Erin Duggan, declined to say whether any charges would be dismissed or to comment on today’s meeting with Diallo.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, was taken off an Air France flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, on May 14, hours after Diallo accused him of trying to rape her in his suite at the Sofitel. He resigned from the IMF on May 19.
Strauss-Kahn, once a potential contender for the presidency of France, was jailed and later placed under house arrest on $1 million bail and a $5 million bond. He was released from home confinement on July 1 after prosecutors told New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus of Diallo’s “substantial credibility issues.”
Diallo, who sought political asylum in the U.S., told prosecutors in June that she had lied to immigration authorities about a gang rape in Guinea. She also changed her story about what she did right after the alleged attack in the Sofitel.
Before that, police said Diallo had given a credible account of the hotel incident and that they had found forensic evidence supporting her allegation.
Callan, also a former prosecutor, said the consensus among most of his colleagues was that Vance would move to dismiss. Prosecutors will make such a recommendation if newly discovered information leads them to decide that there are severe problems with a case and that a jury wouldn’t convict, Callan said.
Vance could make an oral application before the court or a detailed written submission, specifying why dismissal is warranted and explaining that the evidence isn’t sufficient to convict, Callan said. Obus could dismiss the case from the bench, he said.
“I don’t think Vance is going to say Strauss-Kahn is innocent,” said Callan, adding that a minority of his colleagues predict Vance will pursue the case.
Benjamin Brafman, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer, said after the July 1 hearing at which Diallo’s lies were disclosed that he thought all of the charges would eventually be dismissed. He declined to comment on whether the case might be dismissed tomorrow or later.
Vance, 57, said after the July 1 session that he would investigate both sides in deciding what to do in light of the lies and the evidence.
Thompson, 45, said Diallo wouldn’t be the first victim of an attack to utter an untruth. As a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York, Thompson gave the opening argument in the case of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was sodomized in 1997 with a wooden stick inside a police station.
Louima first claimed police officers had said, “It’s Giuliani time!” as one shoved the stick up his rectum, a reference to the mayor at the time, Rudolph Giuliani. Louima later admitted no one had said that.
Thompson has argued that nothing his client has said undercuts her claim that Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her. He said the evidence supporting her claims includes hospital photos of a vaginal bruise he said she suffered when Strauss-Kahn grabbed her. The forensic evidence is consistent with her account of the attack, he said.
Diallo said she declared a friend’s child as a dependent on her tax returns and misrepresented her income to maintain her housing, prosecutors told Strauss-Kahn’s defense lawyers.
Prosecutors also disclosed that she changed her story about what happened immediately after the incident in the Sofitel. Although Diallo told the grand jury she fled to a main hallway after the attack, she later said she went to clean a nearby room before returning to Strauss-Kahn’s suite -- all before reporting the incident, according to a letter prosecutors sent Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers.
A New York Times report cited a phone call in which she told a friend who was jailed in Arizona on drug charges: “Don’t worry. This guy has money. I know what I’m doing.” The statement came from a translated summary of a recording of the call.
After listening to the original conversation, which was conducted in Diallo’s native Fulani, on July 27, Thompson told reporters that the comments had been “merged together” and mischaracterized.
Thompson has pushed back in other ways. He asked Vance on July 6 to recuse himself from the case, accusing prosecutors of “repeated and damaging leaks to the media.” He sued News Corp.’s New York Post on Diallo’s behalf after it published a story calling her a prostitute.
Thompson filed court papers in Manhattan today asking a judge to replace Vance with a special prosecutor.
“Because of the DA’s actions, abuse of confidence, unfair treatment, bias and prejudices, the DA is unfit to try this case,” Diallo’s lawyer Kenneth Thompson said in the papers.
News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal reported last week that New York prosecutors were investigating whether Thompson said in June that he would derail the criminal case if he came to terms with Strauss-Kahn in a civil settlement.
“The allegation against me is absolutely false,” Thompson said in an e-mail. “It’s another baseless attack against Ms. Diallo and her attorneys and designed to distract people from the fact that Dominique Strauss-Kahn violently attacked and sexually assaulted an innocent woman.”
The civil case is Diallo v. Strauss-Kahn, 11-307065, New York State Supreme Court (Bronx County); the criminal case is People v. Strauss-Kahn, 11-02526, New York State Supreme Court (New York County).
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