Published June 06, 2011
Ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty Monday to sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a maid at a New York City hotel.
The former head of the International Monetary Fund pleaded not guilty in a strong voice at the brief proceeding while standing between his defense team as his wife Anne Sinclair.
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus went through the formality of telling Strauss-Kahn he needed to appear in court and had a right to be present at his trial, to which the economist said "yes."
The French diplomat appeared in court for the first time since he was released on $6 million in cash bail and bond last month. He has been under house arrest that includes 24-hour monitors and armed guards, first in a downtown Manhattan apartment and now in a deluxe, $50,000-a-month Tribeca townhouse.
About 50 hotel workers bused in by their union gathered outside the courthouse to jeer Strauss-Kahn, many wearing their work uniforms. They shouted "shame on you" as he arrived, and again as he left in a black sport-utility vehicle.
The accuser "is a hard-working woman who was just doing her job," said Wendy Baranello, a hotel union organizer. "It's outrageous."
The protesters wanted to send the message that "New York is the wrong place to mess with a hotel worker," said Aissata Bocum, a Ramada Inn housekeeper.
After the brief court appearance, Strauss-Kahn's attorney Ben Brafman said by the end of the case, "it will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible."
Brafman's similar comments at an earlier court hearing have led to speculation that the defense will argue the encounter was consensual. He repeated again Monday that he and co-counsel William Taylor would not be commenting on the specifics of the case.
"We will defend this case in the courtroom," he said, urging there not be a rush to judgment.
But the maid's attorney, Kenneth Thompson, said she would testify in court and condemned speculation that she either made up the attack or exaggerated the claims.
"The victim wants you to know that all of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's power, money and influence throughout the world will not keep the truth about what he did to her in that hotel room from coming out," Thompson said.
The Associated Press generally does not identify accusers in sex crime cases unless they agree to it.
Thompson said the 32-year-old woman has not worked since the encounter because she is traumatized. And she will not settle the case or back down.
"She is standing up for women around the world sexually assaulted who are too afraid to come forward," he said.
The hearing, which lasted about five minutes, was an arraignment, a standard proceeding in U.S. courts where the defendant is formally advised of the charges and is given the chance to plead. The attorneys also briefly discussed the handing over of potential evidence in the case. They said in a court filing that they wanted access to police reports, forensic tests, and any statements made by the prosecution to any prospective witness in the case. The also asked for details on any promises made by prosecutors to prospective players in the case, and whether any civil action has been taken. Often the accuser will sue the suspect in civil court for monetary damage. The woman's attorney did not comment Monday on whether a civil suit was planned.
After Strauss-Kahn's arrest, authorities seized several cell phones, his iPad and Apple computer, and defense attorneys were worried about "sensitive and confidential" material on the gadgets, plus phone messages left since his arrest that the district attorney's office should not hear, they said.
Prosecutors have several weeks to answer the defense demands, and the defense requests do not mean the prosecution has made any deals or promises. Strauss-Kahn's next court date was set for July 18.
The case has been intensely followed around the world, spawning news reports even about food deliveries to the home where Strauss-Kahn is staying. His arrest rocked France, where he had been considered a potential contender in next year's presidential elections, and shook up the IMF. He resigned amid the scandal, and proclaimed his innocence in a letter to staff. The powerful lending organization has yet to name his replacement.
The hearing was the top story on French front pages and broadcasts Monday.
"DSK: D-Day" headlined French newspaper Le Figaro, suggesting the routine hearing was a pivotal moment in the case. It was also a reference to Monday's 67th anniversary of the U.S.- and British-led invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, which helped free France from the Nazi grip in World War II.
French media published primers about the U.S. legal system, which differs in many aspects from France's -- including the American jury trial or the condition of "beyond a reasonable doubt" for any conviction in the case.
Strauss-Kahn was arraigned on charges of attempted rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. The most serious charge carries a maximum term of five to 25 years in prison.
The 62-year-old had been staying at the Sofitel, near Times Square in Manhattan, in a $3,000-a-night suite. He was scheduled to check out the day of the encounter.
The maid, a West African widow and mother of a 15-year-old girl, told police Strauss-Kahn chased her down a hallway in his Sofitel hotel suite May 14, tried to pull down her pantyhose and forced her to perform oral sex.
Prosecutors said last month that evidence against Strauss-Kahn was building by the day. Tests have found Strauss-Kahn's DNA matched material on the woman's uniform shirt, people familiar with the investigation told the AP.
But Brafman told a judge May 16 that the defense believed any forensic evidence "will not be consistent with a forcible encounter."
And in a letter to prosecutors last month, Brafman and fellow Strauss-Kahn lawyer William W. Taylor said they had -- but wouldn't yet release -- information that "would seriously undermine the quality of this prosecution and also gravely undermine the credibility of the complainant in this case."
The woman's attorneys said outside court that an attempt to smear her name would not be tolerated.
Fox News' Julie Banderas and the Associated Press contributed to this report.