Strauss-Kahn accuser may sue in friendly Bronx

NEW YORK Thu Aug 4, 2011 6:13pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - For almost three months, the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn has centered around the upscale Sofitel hotel where a maid claimed the former International Monetary Fund chief attacked her.

With Strauss-Kahn's accuser poised to bring a civil suit against him, the focus could shift from the luxury suites of Manhattan to the gritty streets of the Bronx, where juries are believed to be more likely to sympathize with the plight of a 32-year-old immigrant than a well-off politician.

Accuser Nafissatou Diallo's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, has said she intends to file a civil suit soon.

While she could sue Strauss-Kahn in Manhattan, where he is temporarily living in a townhouse, legal experts agree that the Bronx will be the more likely venue.

"I think that Bronx jurors tend to demonstrate a distrust of outsiders, the overprivileged and the system in general," said Brian Waller, a defense attorney who worked in the Bronx as an assistant district attorney.

Bronx juries' reputation for generosity toward plaintiffs is so ingrained that it has been dubbed the "Bronx effect."

"The Bronx civil jury is the greatest tool of wealth redistribution since the Red Army," said Ron Kuby, a well-known New York defense lawyer. "As a purported socialist, DSK should applaud the venue."

The Bronx reputation may be overstated. A study in published in the 2002 Texas Law Review found no evidence Bronx juries deliver bigger awards than other New York counties.

Still, the notion persists that the Bronx gives otherwise powerless plaintiffs their best hope for a big payout.

That could be appealing to Diallo, whose credibility was questioned last month after prosecutors claimed she lied on her asylum application and her tax returns, and gave inconsistent accounts of her actions after the May 14 encounter at the Sofitel.

After these revelations, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance freed Strauss-Kahn from house arrest and said his office would continue its investigation.


If Vance winds up dropping the charges, as many expect him to, a Bronx jury could render a verdict to "correct" what they perceive as a social injustice, said Waller.

"If they do decide to dismiss the case, I think many Bronx residents ... are going to feel once again that the DA, the government, the establishment sided with the wealthy, privileged individual over the poor, single immigrant in the Bronx," Waller said.

Lawyers consider racial and socioeconomic factors when deciding where to file a civil suit.

"The Bronx is overwhelmingly poor, black, and Latino," said Kuby.

A famous example is the case of Bernhard Goetz, a white man dubbed the "subway vigilante" after he shot four black teenagers he said were attempting to rob him one night in 1984. More than 10 years after a Manhattan jury acquitted Goetz of attempted murder, a Bronx jury ordered him to pay $43 million to one of the men paralyzed in the shooting.

Frederick Potack, a past president of the Bronx Bar Association, predicted it was unlikely that Diallo's civil case will ever reach a jury.

"They will give her a sum of money she's never seen before, and she'll go away quietly in the dark," he said.

(Additional reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Jesse Wegman and Doina Chiacu)

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Comments (2)
beaune wrote:
Isn’t a civil suit supposed to be for victims to be recompensated due to damages done? If Naffi and Kenny are looking to be recompensated for Naffi’s daily tears and Kenny’s expense and time in his publicity fiasco, then DSK’s fall from grace and ruin is more than enough to compensate.

Aug 04, 2011 7:38pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
rolandthau wrote:
The criminal case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is more complex and has more layers than the press has so far reported — at times Inaccurately.

The commentators have described it as a “she says, he says” one. In fact, so far, only she (the accuser, Ms. Diallo) has said anything and it may well be that even if the criminal case goes to trial, Mr. Straus-Kahn may choose not to testify lest he expose himself to grueling, embarrassing and damaging cross-examination as well as extremely incriminating rebuttal evidence which would be inadmissible if he did not take the stand.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn has had no obligation to say anything nor to ever do so in the context of the criminal case although he could have made statements to the police following his arrest or testified before the jury which indicted him. He apparently did not, which was his constitutional right. Thus, so far, this has not been a “she says, he says” matter. The fact that the accused’s counsel have made statements apparently conceding that there had been consensual sexual contact is not evidence that their client had said so to them. Those statements may simply reflect counsel’s recognition that DNA evidence establishes irrefutably that there had been sexual contact. As a result, the only conceivable defense is that their client did not force or coerce or otherwise unlawfully induce the accuser into “consenting”.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn need not testify at his criminal trial (if there is one} and the prosecution may not call him to the stand nor comment unfavorably on his decision to not testify. If he did not testify, the judge would instruct the jury –if the defendant chose a jury trial instead of a “bench trial” — that it could not consider the defendant’s decision to remain silent nor count that against him.

Ms Diallo’s attorney has said that she intends to sue Mr. Strauss-Kahn
civilly. If she does, unlike in the criminal case, she has the right to call him to the stand as a witness. Even then, he may refuse to testify, in which case the jury would be instructed to infer that, if he had taken the stand, his testimony would have furnished evidence favorable to his accuser’s case.

One tantalizing aspect of this case so far, has been the matter of what precisely Ms. Diallo said in her recorded telephone conversations with an inmate shortly after Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest.

The reports of those conversations, presumably based on what the prosecution and/or the defense team was telling the press suggested powerfully that Ms. Diallo had made her accusations knowing the identity and wealth of Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

Ms. Diallo’s has disputed the accuracy of the reports purporting to quote the recordings of those conversations. Since this dispute arose at least 2 weeks ago, one wonders why those recordings have not been made public or at the very least why all the interested parties have not reached an understanding about the exact contents and the recordings, now that ample time has passed for authoritative translations and written transcripts to have been made.
Roland Thau

Aug 05, 2011 1:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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