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Strauss-Kahn lawyers press immunity claim at hearing on NYC maid's suit; judge to rule later
NEW YORK (AP) ' Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers tried to persuade a judge Wednesday to throw out a hotel maid's lawsuit against the former International Monetary Fund leader, arguing that he has diplomatic immunity from a civil case that stems from sexual assault allegations dropped in criminal court last year.
"Dismissal, your honor, may seem like an unfair result to some, but it's the result the law compels," said one of Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, Amit P. Mehta.
But housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo's lawyers said Strauss-Kahn was stretching the rules of immunity to shield himself.
"Strauss-Kahn doesn't have immunity, and Ms. Diallo is going to get her day in court," said one of Diallo's lawyers, Douglas H. Wigdor.
Bronx state Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon didn't make an immediate decision during Wednesday's hearing, which came as Strauss-Kahn faced fresh charges in his native France amid a prostitution investigation. McKeon said he would issue a ruling "expeditiously" but didn't specify a date.
Strauss-Kahn, once a potential French presidential candidate, was charged last year with attempted rape and other crimes after his May 14 encounter with Diallo, but the criminal case was dismissed after prosecutors lost faith in her credibility.
Still, she vowed to have her day in court and sued Strauss-Kahn. He has called the encounter a "moral failing" but insists it wasn't violent.
Wednesday's hearing, the first in the lawsuit, dealt with complex laws that shield diplomats from prosecution and lawsuits in their host countries.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers argued that their client is immune under a 1947 United Nations agreement that afforded the privilege to heads of "specialized agencies," including the International Monetary Fund. Although the United States didn't sign that agreement, Strauss-Kahn's attorneys say it has gained so much acceptance elsewhere that it has attained the status of what's known as "customary international law."
Strauss-Kahn was carrying a travel document at the time that said he was entitled to those immunities, his lawyers note.
McKeon vigorously questioned Strauss-Kahn's lawyers. He noted that the IMF's own organizing documents specifically don't grant its director the broad immunity Strauss-Kahn claims, and that Strauss-Kahn ' who resigned his IMF post days after his arrest ' didn't assert immunity in the criminal case.
Mehta said that was because Strauss-Kahn was trying to clear his name.
"He'd been falsely accused of something he hadn't done, and it wasn't in his interest to raise a defense that might seem purely procedural. It was in his interest to fight those charges," Mehta told McKeon before an audience that included a cadre of reporters. Neither Strauss-Kahn, 62, nor Diallo, 33, attended the hearing.
He argued that although Strauss-Kahn no longer had the IMF job when he was sued in August, he still had immunity because another international agreement gives departing diplomats a "reasonable" amount of time to leave their host countries before their immunity expires. Strauss-Kahn was sued while he was under a criminal court order to stay in the country, so he couldn't leave, his lawyer noted.
The judge asked for examples of court cases or legal writing to support that argument; Mehta said he wasn't aware of any legal writing on the issue.
Diallo's attorneys said Strauss-Kahn's argument is overreaching and misses the mark, and they echoed many of the judge's questions. Shortly after Strauss-Kahn's arrest, an IMF spokesman said Strauss-Kahn didn't have immunity because he was on personal business during his encounter with Diallo, Wigdor noted. Strauss-Kahn, often dubbed "DSK," was visiting his daughter in New York.
"DSK thinks he can unilaterally, himself, in his own personal capacity, assert diplomatic immunity and not be held accountable for his actions," Wigdor said.
When police pulled Strauss-Kahn from an Air France flight and arrested him, he declared he had diplomatic immunity, but he ultimately didn't push the issue amid the criminal case that eventually dissolved in August.
Since then, Strauss-Kahn has seen his sexual behavior scrutinized internationally. On Monday, he was handed preliminary charges in France alleging he was involved in a hotel prostitution ring including prominent city figures and police in Lille.
Investigating judges questioned him for about eight hours and gave him preliminary charges of "aggravated procurement in an organized gang." Under French law, preliminary charges mean authorities have reason to believe a crime was committed but allow more time for investigation.
A judge has barred him from speaking with media until further 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. He's free on bail.
After Strauss-Kahn's New York arrest, a French writer also came forward to say Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her during a 2003 interview, but Paris prosecutors said the case was too old to try.
The Associated Press generally doesn't name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Diallo has done.