Unusual legal skirmishes mark Strauss-Kahn case

With the government's case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn foundering, public criticism of the prosecutor by the alleged victim's lawyer underscore problems if a trial takes place, legal experts say.

Prosecutors and victims, who usually do not have their own lawyers, often work hand-in-hand because in most cases “the interests of the victims and the prosecutor are closely aligned,” said Ian Weinstein, a professor at Fordham University School of Law in New York.

But after Manhattan prosecutor Cyrus Vance revealed serious credibility issues with the accuser, a Guinean-born hotel maid, her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, unleashed a furious assault.

Thompson said he feared the district attorney’s office was “laying the foundation to dismiss this case.”

“Our concern is that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is too afraid to try this case. We believe that he’s afraid that he’s going to lose this high-profile case,” Thompson said on July 1 at an impromptu news conference.

On Wednesday, Thompson wrote Vance asking that his office appoint a special prosecutor, citing both a “potential conflict of interest” and the fact that one prosecutor had “screamed at and disrespected the victim.”

Thompson said the conflict arose because the head of the prosecutor’s trial division is married to one of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers involved in the case, a fact he said he first learned about in a New York Times article last month.

“We should have been told about this matter by members of your office and not by members of the press,” Thompson wrote.

Vance’s spokesperson, Erin Duggan, called the recusal request “wholly without merit.”

Weinstein said it is typical for victims to regard the prosecutor as his or her lawyer, even though that is technically not the case.

“The American prosecutor represents the state and the public’s interest in justice,” said Weinstein. “The victim is only a private person in the criminal prosecution who may have a particular interest and some special access.”

The hostility between Thompson and Vance, said Weinstein, “is not unprecedented, but it is unusual, and is a strong signal that the criminal case is very troubled and problematic.”

Normally, the usually close relationship between victim and prosecutor means the two would talk regularly during the run-up to a trial, notes New York University law professor Holly Maguigan.

“Often the victim’s lawyer gathers facts and arguments that are useful to the prosecutor, and often the prosecutor requests the victim’s opinion on possible steps to take,” she said.

But that is clearly not the case here — and not something that is necessarily helpful to either the prosecution or the alleged victim, says lawyer Vincent Sanzone, who argues cases in New York.

“This guy is abrasive, causing a rift between the victim and the prosecutor,” he said, referring to Thompson. “He should be low key. It is very harmful for the rest of the case.”

In addition, the sexual assault charges against Strauss-Kahn could also lead to a civil suit as well, which could result in a potentially large monetary settlement.

But the victim’s credibility is also crucial in a civil trial.

“In this case, it seems to me that the DA may want to blame the victim for the collapse of the case in order to protect  his public standing,” said Weinstein, referring to Vance.

“The victim, on the other hand, will want to blame the DA to protect herown reputation and by extension, the civil suit,” he added.

The public spat between Thompson and Vance is, however, understandable, according to Stephen Dreyfuss, a New York attorney and former assistant prosecutor.

“Cyrus Vance divulged negative information about the victim, something he was obligated to do,” he said. “Her lawyer thought she had been criticized, and he reacted. That’s what lawyers do.”

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Ghosn trial may be delayed until next year: Japanese media

Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn's trial, which was expected to begin in September, will be delayed, local media said Saturday, hinting that it may not start this year.

Ghosn trial may be delayed until next year: Japanese media
Former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn leaving a detention centre on Thursday. Photo: Behrouz Mehri / AFP
The 65-year-old tycoon, currently on bail, is preparing for his trial on four charges of financial misconduct ranging from concealing part of his salary from shareholders to syphoning off Nissan funds for his personal use.
The Tokyo District Court had proposed to start his trial in September during its pre-trial meetings with his defence lawyers and prosecutors, news reports said, quoting unnamed sources.
But the court told the lawyers and prosecutors on Friday that it had retracted the plan without proposing a new time frame, Kyodo News said, adding that the move could mean the trial will not start this year.
The court also decided not to separate the trial for Ghosn, his close aide Greg Kelly and Nissan — all indicted on the charge of violating the financial instruments law by underreporting Ghosn's compensation, according to Kyodo.
His lawyers have so far demanded he be tried separately from Nissan and have voiced fears he will not receive a fair trial.
The Sankei Shimbun also said prosecutors gave up filing an appeal to the Supreme Court against his bail, a move to erasing a chance of his return to jail unless he is arrested again on fresh charges. Immediate confirmation of the news reports was not available.
On Thursday, Ghosn exited his Tokyo detention centre after accepting bail of $4.5 million under strict conditions, including restrictions on seeing his wife.
His case has captivated Japan and the business community with its multiple twists and turns, as well as shone a spotlight on the Japanese justice system which critics say is overly harsh.
Ghosn denies all the charges, with a spokesperson for the executive saying on Monday he would “vigorously defend himself against these baseless accusations and fully expects to be vindicated”.
In a statement hours after his release, Ghosn said: “No person should ever be indefinitely held in solitary confinement for the purpose of being forced into making a confession.”
The dramatic case has thrown international attention onto the Japanese justice system, derided by critics as “hostage justice” as it allows prolonged detention and relies heavily on suspects' confessions.