NY suit vs. Strauss-Kahn revisits dismissed case

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By JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press

A year after the criminal case accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting a hotel maid started to crumble, it's getting renewed scrutiny in her lawsuit over the encounter.

Legally, the ongoing lawsuit and the now-dismissed criminal charges are separate realms. But both sides have recently invoked the criminal case as they seek to strengthen their stances in the civil case.

Housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo's lawyers are trying to get a swath of information about the criminal investigation, reflecting their contention that prosecutors rashly cut a legitimate case loose. Meanwhile, Strauss-Kahn's attorneys are underscoring that prosecutors decided Diallo couldn't be trusted, and he's countersuing her for launching what he calls baseless charges.

It's not yet clear how much discussion of the criminal case might be allowed in a civil trial, if the case comes to that. But their recent moves provide a prism on how both camps might seek to turn the unraveling of the criminal case to their advantage.

"Each side can point to a particular occurrence in the criminal case to support its position," said Michael Shapiro, a former New York state prosecutor who is now a criminal defense and civil lawyer. He's not involved in the Diallo-Strauss-Kahn case.

Strauss-Kahn was the head of the International Monetary Fund and a potential French presidential contender in May 2011 when Diallo reported that he'd attacked her after she entered his Manhattan hotel suite to clean it. The married economist has called the encounter a "moral failing" but says it was consensual.

The charges halted his political career and seemed to open a floodgate of further sex-crime accusations in France, some going back years, against a man who had been seen as a randy charmer. He has acknowledged some "libertine" behavior but denied doing anything criminal or violent.

Strauss-Kahn, 63, is now facing preliminary charges in France related to an alleged hotel prostitution ring, even as he is in a deepening legal fight with Diallo in New York. After a clash over whether Strauss-Kahn should have diplomatic immunity from Diallo's lawsuit, both sides have recently returned the focus to her allegations — and how they were handled in criminal court.

Lawyers for Diallo and Strauss-Kahn declined to comment for this story.

The Manhattan district attorney's office initially said it had a compelling case, with DNA evidence showing a sexual encounter and an accuser who provided a "very powerful" description of being made to perform oral sex and nearly being raped.

A grand jury indicted Strauss-Kahn, but prosecutors soon backed off.

Diallo, they said, had lied about her past — including a false account of a previous rape — and her actions after leaving Strauss-Kahn's room. She says she told the truth about their encounter.

Ultimately, prosecutors said their DNA and medical evidence didn't prove the encounter was forced, and they no longer felt they could take Diallo's word for it. They dropped the case last August.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers argue that prosecutors' doubts should also sink the civil case.

"The criminal prosecution of Mr. Strauss-Kahn was terminated in his favor," William W. Taylor III and other Strauss-Kahn attorneys noted as Strauss-Kahn lodged malicious prosecution, defamation and other claims against Diallo in a May countersuit. It quotes from prosecutors' papers explaining their concerns about her credibility.

Diallo's lawyers have long emphasized that a grand jury found there was enough evidence to indict Strauss-Kahn, and the attorneys have said prosecutors cravenly discredited Diallo to extricate themselves from a daunting, high-profile case.

Her attorneys have portrayed the lawsuit as her way of getting justice in another court, and they clearly aim to raise questions there about how — and how fairly — the DA's office reached its decision to shed the case.

Lawyers Kenneth P. Thompson and Douglas H. Wigdor asked a court in May to sign off on a demand for prosecutors to turn over an array of information. Diallo's lawyers want to see any notes and other documents tied to statements portraying her as a chronic liar, as well as prosecutors' communications with Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, the media and others about the case.

The DA's office is fighting the demand for what it says is largely confidential material. Bronx state Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon hasn't yet ruled on the issue.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Diallo has done.

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