Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
A judge says he won't rule immediately on whether to dismiss a hotel maid's lawsuit alleging that Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in New York City.
Bronx state Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon heard arguments Wednesday in the housekeeper's civil case.
She says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May. Strauss-Kahn has denied doing anything violent during the encounter.
Prosecutors dropped related criminal charges last summer.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers tried to persuade the 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 the same sexual assault allegations that were 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 outside the courthouse, Nafissatou Diallo's attorney, Kenneth Thompson, called Strauss-Kahn's appeal a "desperate attempt to delay proceedings."
“If he had immunity why didn’t his lawyers say a single word about his immunity during the criminal case?” he asked. "It doesn’t make sense.”
The disgraced former IMF chief's attorney dismissed the notion that Strauss-Kahn should have claimed immunity when he was charged in Manhattan and said Diallo was pursuing the civil suit for the pay out.
“We are sure as we can be, she’s not going to get that from Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” William Taylor said.
He told reporters he spoke with Strauss-Kahn Wednesday morning and that he was in good spirits and “wish he could be with you today.”
Wednesday's hearing came as Strauss-Kahn faced fresh charges in his native France amid a prostitution investigation.
In New York, the 62-year-old diplomat, once a potential French presidential candidate, was charged last year with attempted rape and other crimes after his May 14 encounter with hotel maid Nafissatou 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.
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 Strauss-Kahn 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.
Courts "have dismissed suits just like this one on grounds of immunity," Mehta told Bronx state Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon before an audience that included a cadre of reporters. Neither Strauss-Kahn nor Diallo, 33, attended the hearing.
McKeon vigorously questioned Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, noting that the IMF's own organizing documents specifically don't grant its director the broad immunity Strauss-Kahn claims.
Diallo's attorneys have said Strauss-Kahn's argument is overreaching and misses the mark. They were expected to make their arguments later Wednesday.
When police pulled Strauss-Kahn from an Air France flight and arrested him, he also declared he had diplomatic immunity, but the IMF said he didn't because he was in New York on personal business - visiting his daughter. He 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.