Dominique Strauss-Kahn today pleaded not guilty to charges he tried to rape a maid in his suite at Manhattan's Sofitel Hotel on May 14. He has been indicted on seven criminal charges that carry a maximum of 25 years in prison. And with an army of high-powered lawyers backing him against the cream of New York City's prosecutors, the case is destined to be a ferocious legal battle.
Strauss-Kahn entered court just before 9 a.m. and left at 9:35 a.m. today after the minutes-long arraignment as members of the New York housekeepers' union chanted "shame on you" in front of the courthouse. On his Twitter feed, the Telegraph's Jon Swaine reported that two men from the Guinean embassy sat in the front row of the hearing "just to observe." It's the first time the maid's home country has sent representatives to follow the case. Strauss-Kahn's next court date was set for July 18.
After the hearing, lead defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman said, "once the evidence is reviewed, it will be clear there will be no element of of forcible compulsion in this case," reiterating the suggestion that the defense would argue the encounter was consensual. Then lawyer Kenneth Thompson, who said he and partner Doug Wigdor were the maid's only counsel (Jeffrey Shapiro has left the case, Thompson said), said his client was "standing up for her dignity as a woman," and for women across the world. "She is going to come into this courthouse, get up on that witness stand, and tell the world what Dominique strauss-kahn did to her," Thompson said. He denied that his client was considering a civil suit.
The showdown of personalities between the newly minted Manhattan district attorney and the high-powered international financial regulator, and the high stakes for both sides, have made the possibility of a plea-bargain remote. Bloomberg's Karen Freifeld today reported that the defense would enter a not-guilty plea on all the charges.
While DNA evidence reportedly links Strauss-Kahn to the scene (material on the maid's shirt is said to have been a match) there's little physical evidence of a forcible encounter. The case, according to The New York Times, is "is shaping up to be a battle of she-said, he-said." In a lengthy preview, writers John Eligon and Joseph Goldstein paint a picture of two heavy hitters who can't bear to back down: Cyrus Vance, a district attorney still working to come out from the shadow of his predecessor Robert M. Morgenthau, won't want to appear weak in such a high profile case, while Strauss Kahn, in the words of an unnamed former prosecutor, has "a perception of himself that doesn’t permit him to stand up and say, ‘I raped that woman."
The defense has already indicated in a court filing that it would attack the maid's credibility, and it has engaged the investigative firm Guidepost Solutions, presumably to dig up as much dirt on her as possible. The prosecution will likely rely heavily on the maid's own testimony, as well as physical evidence linking Strauss-Kahn to the scene.
Strauss-Kahn is currently confined to a $50,000-per-month TriBeCa townhouse after posting $1 million bail. The media circus surrounding the case hasn't been matched since Mark David Chapman was arraigned for shooting John Lennon, a court spokesman told Bloomberg. It's going to be quite a spectacle.