The hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her wants her day in court, her lawyer has said.
She still could get it, even if prosecutors decide to drop the criminal case amid what they say are doubts about her trustworthiness.
Regardless of what happens in the criminal case, the woman could pursue her claim in a civil lawsuit, a route taken successfully by some after high-profile criminal cases ended without a conviction. While the housekeeper's credibility would still be a significant issue, different legal standards for civil and criminal cases could give her claims _ which Strauss-Kahn denies _ a greater chance of prevailing in civil court.
A civil case can offer the prospect of money and establishing that wrongdoing, if not a crime, was committed. And for some people, bringing their own cases gives them more of a sense of control, instead of putting themselves in prosecutors' hands.
"The civil suit represents the only avenue for the alleged victim herself to achieve justice," says L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta-based attorney who represented a woman who accused NBA star Kobe Bryant of raping her in a Colorado hotel room. Bryant said the sex was consensual. The criminal case was dropped after the woman told prosecutors she couldn't take part in a trial, but she sued Bryant and reached a confidential settlement that bars Wood from talking about the case itself.
For the moment, it's unclear whether Strauss-Kahn's accuser is even contemplating a lawsuit over the alleged attack; her lawyer didn't immediately respond when asked by email Friday. But she already has proven she's willing to litigate: She sued the New York Post over what she said were libelous reports that she was a prostitute. The newspaper says it stands by its reporting.
So far, the maid's allegations that 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in his hotel suite on May 14 have not been proven in any court. A grand jury found there was enough evidence to indict him on attempted rape, committing a criminal sex act and other charges, but an indictment is far short of the legal standard for a conviction.
Prosecutors were still deciding what to do with the case on Friday, a week after saying it had been undercut by the 32-year-old accuser's history of falsehoods about her background and her actions right after the encounter.
Sometimes, lawsuits can be a more promising avenue than the criminal justice system for alleged victims and their families, said Los Angeles-based lawyer Gloria Allred. She can point to a prominent example from her own career: She represented Nicole Brown Simpson's relatives in their lawsuit against O.J. Simpson over her death. The former NFL player and movie star was acquitted in a criminal trial of killing his ex-wife and her friend Ronald Goldman, but a civil jury didn't believe him and awarded a total of $33.5 million to her family and Goldman's.
"You get testimony sometimes that you could never get out of a criminal case," Allred said in an interview Friday.
Prosecutors in criminal cases must prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, while plaintiffs in lawsuits need only persuade a judge or jury that a preponderance of the evidence is in their favor.
Unlike criminal cases, civil cases also give plaintiffs and defendants the right _ before trial _ to question each other under oath. And a plaintiff can call a defendant as a witness at trial, which a prosecutor cannot do; it's up to the defendant in a criminal case whether he or she wants to take the stand.
Simpson, for example, didn't testify at his criminal trial. But he had to testify in the civil case, unable to assert Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination because he had been acquitted.
In the Strauss-Kahn encounter, credibility would be as much of an issue in a potential civil case as it has become in the criminal prosecution.
Prosecutors say his accuser lied on immigration paperwork and to them about having been gang-raped in her native Guinea, acknowledging she had memorized an emotional account of the made-up rape to help her ultimately successful application for political asylum. She also told the grand jury she hovered in a hallway to await a supervisor after her encounter with Strauss-Kahn, when she actually went on cleaning rooms for a time, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors also found the woman had been recorded telling a friend that Strauss-Kahn had money, and she had little explanation for tens of thousands of dollars that other people had deposited in her bank account, a law enforcement official has said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details not made public in court.
The woman's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, has said she's made mistakes in her life but was honest about the encounter.
While having lied is obviously problematic in any court case, it's not necessarily insurmountable, according to some lawyers not involved in the Strauss-Kahn case.
Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was tortured in a New York City police station bathroom in 1997, admitted months later that he'd lied when he said the officers who assaulted him snarled that it was "Giuliani time," a reference to then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Louima's lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, told reporters at the time that the fabrication "doesn't matter. What matters is: He's still a victim," he recalled Friday. "And that's the tack I would take in (the Strauss-Kahn) case."
One officer pleaded guilty mid-trial to sodomizing Louima with a broomstick, and another was ultimately convicted of perjury. Two others were convicted of obstruction of justice, but their convictions were overturned. Louima sued and reached an $8.7 million settlement with the city and police union.
Indeed, a civil case could provide Strauss-Kahn's accuser with a forum to defend herself, said Susan M. Karten, a New York lawyer who often represents crime victims or their families.
"Whatever her credibility issues may be, she is out there being vilified in the public arena. So, in many respects, this would be an opportunity for her to rehabilitate her reputation," Karten said.
On the other hand, given that prosecutors have said Strauss-Kahn's accuser was untruthful to a grand jury, there's also the question of whether she might end up in court as a defendant in a perjury case. But a lawyer experienced in perjury cases calls that unlikely. The Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment.
Perjury is hard to prove; under New York law, prosecutors have to establish that a person deliberately lied, not just misremembered, and that the falsehood was material to the case, which could be debatable even with respect to the hotel maid's account of her actions after the alleged assault, lawyer Paul F. Callan said.
Moreover, prosecutors are often hesitant to bring such cases, he said.
"There's always a fear that it might discourage legitimate victims from coming forward, if they feared they might be prosecuted for perjury if their case was not, ultimately, believed," said Callan, who represented a woman who pleaded guilty to perjury in 2009. The woman, Biurny Peguero, admitted she had made up a gang rape story that that put a man behind bars for nearly four years. Peguero is now serving up to three years in prison.
Strauss-Kahn's accuser also could face other legal trouble regarding her immigration status, immigration law experts say.
They say the woman's case could be reopened based on asylum application lies and she could be deported. However, U.S. officials are often presented with fabricated stories by people seeking refugee status in the country, and the nation's immigration courts are filled with instances of those caught embellishing personal histories to meet the strict conditions for being granted asylum.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it doesn't discuss asylum issues.
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz