- Under Cover
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BY CYNTHIA MAGNUS | Prosecutors in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex assault case went before Judge Michael Obus on July 1 to consent to the defense’s bail application. The judge ordered Strauss-Kahn released on his own recognizance, and the bail refunded, though his passport was held, and the indictment related to the alleged May 14 sex attack on a hotel maid was not dismissed. Strauss-Kahn later left the courthouse with wife Anne Sinclair.
The petition came on the heels of the disclosure of exculpatory information in a June 30 letter to the defense counsel from Assistant District Attorneys Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and John McConnell. In it, they wrote that during the course of the investigation that continued even after Strauss-Kahn’s indictment, the accuser admitted she had falsified information on her application for asylum to the U.S. Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service in 2004. She also falsified details of a rape she suffered in her native country of Guinea. She further admitted to fraudulently declaring an additional dependent on her tax returns for the past two years, as well as misrepresenting her income to qualify for her current housing.
Most damaging to the case is her admission that she lied about her actions after the alleged attack at the Sofitel hotel. Initially she told investigators that, after the assault, she fled to an area of the 28th floor and waited until she saw Strauss-Kahn leave Suite 2806 and enter an elevator; she then notified her supervisor. She has since admitted that, instead of reporting the attack immediately, she first cleaned a nearby room on the 28th floor, and then returned to Strauss-Kahn’s suite to begin cleaning it.
Illuzzi-Orbon told the judge that, though the strength of the case was affected by “the substantial credibility issues relating to the complaining witness,” the D.A.’s office was not moving to dismiss the case. She said the “fact of a sexual encounter was and is corroborated by forensic evidence, and the very brief time period inside the hotel suite strongly suggested something other than a consensual act.”
District Attorney Cyrus Vance stated “prosecutors will continue their investigation into these alleged crimes, and will do so until we have uncovered all relevant facts.”
After the hearing, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers spoke briefly to the press, followed by the victim’s lawyer, Kenneth Thompson. When asked by the Downtown Express about his client’s release, defense counsel Benjamin Brafman said, “I feel good.”
One of D.S.K.’s neighbors said that while most Tribeca residents will be glad to see Strauss-Kahn go, “I feel like [the accuser] is a victim and the case should go on,” based on the DNA evidence recovered in the hotel room.
Tribeca resident Nancy Davidson, an artist and former professor at Purchase College, SUNY, said of the revelations about D.S.K.’s accuser, “And now she’s not all clean, so then how much of her case still has value?”
“Suddenly she’s turned into a criminal. And then the question is – what is is her case based on? Is it based on her victimhood?” asked Davidson. “It brings up a lot of questions for us.”
Artist Heide Fasnacht who also lives in Tribeca and teaches at Parsons responded, “I think his stature functions in the opposite way. That it somehow makes him more valuable, more of a significant person to rescue out of this, being maligned. None of this is good stuff.”
Hester Eisenstein, professor of sociology at CUNY, and expert on gender and feminism issues said, “It does set back the argument about rape because some of the stereotypes got reinforced by the emphasis on the woman’s character. The thing that strikes me is that the people around, or Vance himself, are saying, ‘This did happen, we still believe this happened, we still believe she was raped but she’s so lacking in credibility as a witness that we can’t bring an indictment.’ Well, that’s something wrong with the criminal justice system, to me. That shows there isn’t a sufficient mechanism to protect women from rape.”
The intense media presence at the courthouse on July 1 and outside Strauss-Kahn’s Franklin Street residence proved that the case continues to be an international event, attracting reporters from all over Europe, the Americas, China, and Japan.
New York based British journalist Daniel Bates said, “Clearly there is interest because Mr. Strauss-Kahn is a world statesman, but it is heightened by the fact he is French. I think there’s a stereotype about the French in the UK.”
Laura Haim, U.S. Bureau Chief for the French television station “Canal Plus” remarked on the popular view in France of how the case has been handled.
“For them, the rush to arraignment was too quick. The image of the perp walk and his court appearance with the camera inside the courtroom was something traumatizing,” said Haim. “You have to remember those kinds of things never happen inside the French society. The separation between private life and public figure is important to them.”
Haim said that according to a recent poll conducted by the French daily newspaper le Parisien, 49 percent want D.S.K. to come back to politics.
French tourist Brigitte Labardacq is visiting New York for the first time with her husband and son. They have so far enjoyed seeing Spiderman, Zarkana, and visiting the Museum of the American Indian. She said they learned the news of D.S.K.’s release while here and, along with most of France, found “the entire case shocking.” She said Strauss-Kahn is a good financial expert, but she knows nothing of his personal life. His spouse Anne Sinclair, she said, “is a good wife.” Labardacq said the personal issues the case has roiled are still too new to make a successful political bid possible.
While the Strauss-Kahn case may have provoked useful conversations about workplace safety and gender parity, that some analysts now fear may be lost, legal ethicist Ellen Yaroshefsky, professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law said, “We don’t build social justice on the backs of criminal defendants.”
Of the extensive disclosure of information about the victim to the defense by the DA’s office Yaroshefsky said, “It’s commendable, and this standard should be applied to every case.”
Yaroshefsky said the decision to continue with the case, or not, would be “a legitimate exercise of the DA’s discretion.”