NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers representing the woman who accused former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault have asked the leading New York prosecutor to withdraw from the case and appoint a special prosecutor.
In a letter to District Attorney Cyrus Vance, the lawyers accused a prosecutor in Vance’s office of leaking damaging information about Strauss-Kahn’s accuser.
A spokeswoman for Vance had no immediate comment.
“District Attorney Vance, we ask in earnest that your office voluntarily recuse itself from the Strauss-Kahn case and that you appoint a special prosecutor,” Kenneth Thompson, the lawyer for the 32-year-old hotel maid from Guinea, wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.
Recusals are rare and this one was not likely to succeed, legal experts said.
Reuters obtained a copy of the letter after defense lawyers for Strauss-Kahn met with prosecutors from Vance’s office for nearly two hours on Wednesday as the case against him appeared in serious jeopardy.
Both sides declined to give any details of the meeting. The New York Times had reported they would discuss whether the charges could be resolved by a dismissal or plea agreement.
The case was thrown into jeopardy last week when prosecutors discovered the accuser had lied about being gang-raped in her home country in her application for U.S. asylum and changed details of her story about what she did after her encounter with Strauss-Kahn in a luxury suite.
Thompson has said the woman had made mistakes in the past but insisted she was sexually assaulted by Strauss-Kahn, and that evidence existed to prove it.
Thompson accused Vance’s chief assistant, Daniel Alonso, of planting “damaging leaks” in the media that undermined his client’s character and the charges against Strauss-Kahn.
He faulted prosecutors for never handing over to him an audio recording of a telephone call his client made to her boyfriend in an Arizona prison while leaking a description of part of the call to The New York Times.
Thompson referred to a specific quote in which an unnamed law enforcement official spoke to the Times about that phone conversation.
“She says words to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I am doing,'” the Times reported.
Thompson said Alonso used “virtually the same words” in relating the call to him hours before it appeared in the Times.
The letter also complained about the office refusing to fully deny a story by the New York Post that his client may be a prostitute. Thompson filed a libel suit against the Post about that.
“Such apparent leaks by members of your office is, without question, an abrogation of the duties and responsibilities of a prosecutor,” the letter said.
The letter also complained about one of the prosecutors having “screamed at and disrespected the victim while she met with them.”
Law experts say the request was unlikely to succeed.
“It’s a silly request,” said Columbia Law Professor Daniel Richman, who said he believes Thompson’s letter has more to do with public relations than with a legitimate demand. “It makes for a nice sound bite.”
Recusals are rare and usually occur when there is a personal stake in the outcome for members of the prosecutor’s office.
“Recusals are unusual, but not unprecedented,” said Paul Shechtman, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor. “This isn’t the occasion for one.”
Shechtman said allegations of leaks to the media, even if true, are probably not enough to result in a recusal.
“Whatever you think about leaks, if they were grounds for recusal, we would have a great number of recusal motions,” he said.
Benjamin Brafman, Strauss-Kahn’s defense lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Writing by Daniel Trotta, Additional reporting Joseph Ax and Christine Kearney; Editing by Sandra Maler