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NEW YORK Dec 11 For Bronx Supreme Court Justice
Douglas McKeon, the meeting on Nov. 28 with lawyers for
Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the hotel maid who accused the former
IMF chief of sexual assault was the culmination of months of
Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International
Monetary Fund, was considered a leading candidate for president
of France until his career came crashing down with the
accusation. Now the maid's civil lawsuit was all that remained
of the scandal in the United States, and McKeon was looking for
"A court can send messages to parties that it is willing to
work with them, to put the time in, to play a constructive role"
in reaching a deal, McKeon said in an interview with Reuters on
Tuesday, a day after announcing that the maid, Nafissatou
Diallo, and Strauss-Kahn had settled for an undisclosed sum.
"There are some judges who don't believe that is their role,
and that's a legitimate position to have," McKeon said.
While McKeon declined to discuss the details of the
settlement, he provided a rare glimpse into his
behind-the-scenes role in helping the parties settle the case.
Over the course of several hours on that November afternoon,
McKeon said he went back and forth between the lawyers and a
side room where Diallo was waiting, keeping her informed of
developments as a framework for a deal was hammered out.
Kenneth Thompson, one of Diallo's lawyers, on Tuesday
credited McKeon for his "hard work" in facilitating a
settlement. He declined to comment further on the details of the
deal. William Taylor, a lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, declined to
comment Tuesday but praised McKeon in court on Monday for his
Diallo accused Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape and forcing
her to perform oral sex in his Manhattan hotel suite in May
2011, leading to his arrest and destroying his political career
in France. The charges were dropped in August 2011 after
prosecutors grew concerned about Diallo's credibility; she filed
a civil lawsuit just weeks before the criminal case was
The case, which drew international headlines, carried an
unusual level of public and media scrutiny. McKeon said he
approached the negotiations like any other civil lawsuit.
"When you have in-court proceedings that attract 100
reporters from around the world, it's not the typical personal
injury case that you deal with every day," he said. "On the
other hand, the trick to me in settling any case is to have
perseverance, not grow discouraged, keep the parties talking and
try to create a civil atmosphere so that one can have a
productive conversation. Those rules apply in every case."
At the same time, McKeon said he entered the negotiations
without a preconceived notion of the value of the case because
he didn't know what kind of assets Strauss-Kahn had access to.
"In 99 percent of civil cases that I handle, there is some
kind of insurance or entity which is clearly financially
viable," he said. "I did not know what Mr. Strauss-Kahn's
financial wherewithal was."
Strauss-Kahn paid the settlement with private money, not
insurance, McKeon said.
REACHING COMMON GROUND
A veteran judge of more than two decades, McKeon has long
advocated for judges to play a role in settlement talks.
He recently led an experimental approach to handling medical
malpractice cases in which judges with medical knowledge mediate
discussions, forestalling lengthy litigation.
The settlement process in the Strauss-Kahn case began
earlier this year, soon after McKeon rejected Strauss-Kahn's
motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on diplomatic immunity.
McKeon said he met with Diallo and Thompson -- with Taylor's
permission -- to see whether she might consider a settlement.
"Up until the diplomatic immunity decision, there was never
any indication that Ms. Diallo would even consider a
settlement," he said. "Thereafter, there seemed to be more of a
willingness on her side."
Over the next few months, McKeon served as mediator,
discussing the case with one side and then the other in an
effort to find common ground.
The tenor of the negotiations was respectful, and progress
came relatively smoothly, McKeon said, in contrast to the barbs
exchanged between the lawyers in public.
The final decision he made was to have the settlement
announced in open court, rather than ending the case more
quietly by filing documents.
"The public portion of the settlement process was a
pronouncement that the system does work," he said. "I wanted
everyone to see that Ms. Diallo was part of that process."
(Editing by Noeleen Walder, Daniel Trotta and Lisa Shumaker)