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Posted Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hotel Housekeeper Sues Strauss-Kahn

The hotel housekeeper who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her in his 28th-floor suite sued him in State Supreme Court in the Bronx on Monday, seeking unspecified damages for a “violent and sadistic attack” that humiliated and degraded her and robbed her “of her dignity as a woman.”

Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency

Nafissatou Diallo, shown in July with her lawyer, Kenneth P. Thompson.

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The timing of the lawsuit was unusual for cases that also involve criminal prosecutions; typically, accusers wait until a criminal matter is resolved before proceeding with a civil action, which can interfere with a pending criminal case. Nonetheless, the action seemed noteworthy for its choice of jurisdiction. The housekeeper, a Guinean immigrant, lives in the Bronx, and jurors there may be more sympathetic to an African woman’s claims against a powerful Frenchman than jurors would be in Manhattan, where the encounter occurred. The lawsuit was also noteworthy for its smattering of new details.

A lawyer for the housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, indicated in court papers that he was prepared to introduce testimony from other women who say they were attacked by Mr. Strauss-Kahn in “hotel rooms around the world,” and in apartments specifically used by him “for the purpose of covering up his crimes.” The lawyer, Kenneth P. Thompson, declined to elaborate.

The lawsuit also asserts that Mr. Strauss-Kahn made an obscene request to Ms. Diallo in commanding her to perform oral sex, and describes in explicit detail her characterization of the subsequent act and her reaction to it.

The complaint, which seeks damages for mental anguish, says Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s “senseless attack on Ms. Diallo has caused her to suffer both physical and psychological harm, as well as permanent harm to her professional and personal reputations, and severe mental anguish and emotional distress, from which she may never recover.”

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, William W. Taylor III and Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement that they had always maintained that the motivation of Mr. Thompson and his client was to make money. “The filing of this lawsuit ends any doubt on that question,” the statement said. “The civil suit has no merit and Mr. Strauss-Kahn will defend it vigorously.” 

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, was arrested and charged with sexual assault in the hours after the alleged attack on Ms. Diallo, 32, on May 14 at the Sofitel New York. At the time, he was the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a leading candidate for the French presidency. He resigned from the I.M.F. four days after his arrest.

The lawsuit comes at what seems to be a particularly delicate time in the criminal proceeding; prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office said in June that they had serious questions about what Ms. Diallo had told them about her past and her personal life. They are weighing whether to dismiss the charges because of their concerns that Ms. Diallo would not be a credible witness.

Prosecutors generally advise accusers to refrain from filing a lawsuit while a criminal case is pending because it exposes them to discovery, and defense lawyers can use it to color the accuser’s motives.

Asked about the timing of the lawsuit, Mr. Thompson said, “Ms. Diallo has filed her lawsuit now because she wants to vindicate her rights and hold Dominique Strauss-Kahn accountable for the violent and deplorable acts that he committed against her.”

The lawsuit is just one of a number of unusual developments in an extraordinary case. Last month, after two months of silence, Ms. Diallo chose to go public and identify herself in interviews with Newsweek and ABC News, a decision that many viewed as a sign that her lawyer was pessimistic that the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., would go forward with the case.

And the suit, which may further erode Mr. Thompson’s relationship with Mr. Vance’s office, could also be a sign that his pessimism is growing.

Indeed, the lawsuit reiterates Mr. Thompson’s past suggestion, though perhaps less emphatically, that members of the district attorney’s office had leaked information to the news media that “severely damaged Ms. Diallo’s credibility, reputation and character.”

“As a result of these repeated leaks,” the complaint says, “some people now believe, albeit incorrectly, that Ms. Diallo made up the sexual assault in order to shake down the defendant Strauss-Kahn for money.”

Erin M. Duggan, a spokeswoman for Mr. Vance’s office, declined to comment about the lawsuit.

The district attorney’s office and Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers have twice agreed to postpone a hearing in the case, at which it has been expected that the prosecution will announce its decision. It is now scheduled for Aug. 23.

Asked why the lawsuit did not specify a figure for damages, Mr. Thompson said, “Ms. Diallo will accept whatever a jury believes she is entitled to receive.”

The suit also seeks a finding that Mr. Strauss-Kahn broke the law and an order barring him from doing so again.

Reprinted from The New York Times, New York Region, of Tuesday, August 9, 2011.


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