A hotel maid's sexual assault lawsuit against Dominique Strauss-Kahn can go forward to trial, a judge ruled Tuesday, rebuffing the former International Monetary Fund leader's diplomatic-immunity claim.
Bronx state Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon's ruling kept alive the civil case that emerged from a May 2011 hotel-room encounter that also spurred now-dismissed criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn, then a French presidential hopeful. The episode was the first in a series of allegations about his sexual conduct that sank his political career.
The housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, 33, said Strauss-Kahn, 63, tried to rape her when she arrived to clean his Manhattan hotel suite. Strauss-Kahn has denied doing anything violent during the encounter.
Prosecutors dropped related criminal charges last summer, saying they had developed doubts about her trustworthiness because she had lied about her background and her actions right after the alleged attack. Diallo has insisted she told the truth about what happened in the encounter itself.
Strauss-Kahn resigned his IMF job days after his arrest, and he didn't assert immunity from the criminal prosecution; his lawyers have said he was focused then on trying to exonerate himself. The lawsuit was filed about three months later.
Strauss-Kahn argued that he was immune from the lawsuit because of his former IMF job. Invoking an American sports metaphor to strike down Strauss-Kahn's argument, McKeon noted that the lending agency's own rules limit its official's immunity to things they do in their official capacities, and that Strauss-Kahn had resigned his post by the time he was sued.
"Mr. Strauss-Kahn throws (legally speaking, that is) his own version of a `Hail Mary' pass by asserting that once he was arrested and confined to a New York home as a condition of bail" he was covered by a treaty allowing departing diplomats reasonable time to leave the country before their immunity expires, McKeon wrote.
"Strauss-Kahn cannot eschew immunity in an effort to clear his name only to embrace it now to deny Ms. Diallo the opportunity to clear hers," the judge wrote.
Diallo's lawyers issued a statement calling the ruling "well-reasoned and articulate."
"We have said all along that Strauss Kahn's desperate plea for immunity was a tactic designed to delay these proceedings and we now look forward to holding him accountable for the brutal sexual assault that he committed," attorneys Kenneth P. Thompson and Douglas H. Wigdor said in a statement.
Strauss-Kahn's attorneys said they were disappointed and mulling their next move.
"He is determined to fight the claims brought against him, and we are confident that he will prevail," lawyers William Taylor III and Amit Mehta said in a statement.
They had pointed to a 1947 United Nations agreement that afforded the privilege to heads of "specialized agencies," including the IMF. Although the United States didn't sign that agreement, Strauss-Kahn's attorneys said it has gained such broad acceptance elsewhere that it has become what's known as "customary international law."
Dismissing the case "may seem like an unfair result to some, but it's the result the law compels," Mehta said at a March hearing.
But Diallo's lawyers said the immunity claim was off-base. They stressed that the U.S. didn't join in the 1947 agreement, and that an IMF spokesman said shortly after Strauss-Kahn's arrest that he didn't have immunity because he was on personal business during his encounter with Diallo. Strauss-Kahn was visiting his daughter in New York.
"Dominique Strauss-Kahn thinks he's above the law," Thompson said after the March hearing.
McKeon's decision to allow the case to proceed was first reported by The New York Post.
The Associated Press generally doesn't name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Diallo has done.
After Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York, a French writer came forward to say Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her during a 2003 interview. Paris prosecutors said that accusation was too old to try, but French authorities have pursued an unrelated allegation that he was involved in a hotel prostitution ring including prominent city figures and police in Lille.
In March, he was handed preliminary charges, which mean authorities have reason to believe a crime was committed but allow more time for investigation.
His French lawyer said the married Strauss-Kahn engaged in "libertine" acts but did nothing legally wrong and is being unfairly targeted for his extramarital sex life.