Finding Meaning in the Strauss-Kahn Case's Implosion

In a case this big, events such as today's have ripples throughout society

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Now that the initial surprise and confusion has worn off a bit after today's short but exceptionally punchy court appearance by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a few opinionators have stuck around in the hours before the long holiday weekend to offer analyses of what the case's impact will be on various aspects of society. The former director of the International Monetary Fund has been released on his own recognizance, his bail refunded, and his house arrest lifted. The felony sexual assault case against him still stands, but many (including his lawyers) expect the charges to be dropped now that the complaining witness has been accused, by the prosecution no less, of being dishonest and unreliable. Here are a few ideas on the legacy of today's Straus-Kahn extravaganza.

For Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance: "Who faces longer election odds," asks New York Times columnist Michael Powell, "Dominique Strauss-Kahn or the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr.?" He says the district attorney made a "spectacular botch" of the case.

 There is no argument, moral or legal, to be made for special treatment. But if a local prosecutor decides that justice demands bringing to ground the International Monetary Fund’s managing director and a potential French presidential front-runner, he might want to nail down each detail before slapping on the cuffs.

The former I.M.F. chief is a man who travels back and forth across the Atlantic as easily as most of us cross Broadway. Why not build a case and arrest him the next time he steps into Nobu? Those who argue against prosecutorial patience point to the case of Roman Polanski, who engaged in scurrilously bad, not to mention felonious, behavior in the United States, and then picked up his film career within the shadow of the Alps.

But Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s life ambitions argue against the notion that he could have barricaded himself inside his Paris duplex, lived on takeout foie gras for a few months, and resumed his candidacy for president. He faced two choices: Restore his honor by facing the charges, or retire into disgrace.

For assault victims, and their trials, in the future: Jaclyn Friedman, at Good magazine, asks the question on the minds of many: While Strauss-Kahn's accuser has dealt with shady people and perhaps lied about other things in the past, how does that prove he didn't rape her?

Only when the incontrovertible evidence of his very personal DNA showed up on her clothes did he change his story to claim that something did, in fact, happen, and she consented. This is a guy whose wife has made public statements about how awesome it is to have a hubby who is a powerful seducer of the ladies. So why would he lie to cover a consensual dalliance?

On the other hand, we've got a poor, immigrant woman of color, in the United States on an asylum visa. She's been linked to drug deals. She's got too many cell phones. She receives mysterious financial deposits from felons. You can bet she's attached to her legit hotel job and doesn't want to get tangled up with the authorities. She's also likely smart enough to know that a whole host of personal details make her the less credible witness in a he said/she said case against one of the most powerful white dudes on the planet. All of that adds up to serious motivation to keep those details hidden from the prosecutors she's relying on for justice.

Still, she ran to coworkers and the police in an agitated state to get help on the day in question. Has she done some sketchy things? That seems pretty likely. Are people who do sketchy things still raped sometimes? Yes. They're just a lot less likely to see their attackers brought to justice.

For the mob and financial markets: Writing for MarketWatch, Bret Arends points to a "DSK guilt 'bubble.' " He writes that in our age of constant connection, the crowd mentality easily overtakes.

Far from making us wiser, smarter and better informed, modern technology is instead casting us back into the past. The electronic village is home to a lot of electronic lynch mobs and electronic witch trials.

What does this have to do with finance? Everything. Financial markets are simply the crowd in action. They reflect the weight of money and investment opinion. That is their strength, but that is also their flaw. The more I see mass judgments in the age of infinite media, the more I think it’s a flaw.


There are some simple lessons from all this. The Dominique Strauss-Kahn case hammers them home.

We should never assume the crowd, or “everyone else,” or the market is right or even rational. Five hundred ill-informed opinions don’t amount to a hill of beans.

We should always listen to what contrarians have to say — especially when they sound most ridiculous, and especially when they are being shouted down. We should never trust any judgments reached quickly.

In reaching our own conclusions, we should fight the urge to join the crowd. We should take our time, do our own homework and make up our own minds. There is no hurry.

For the media who cover high-profile criminal cases: The Daily Beast's Tony Dokoupil ponders whether it's time to give up the American criminal justice tradition of the perp walk, which provided some of the first images to come out of the Struass-Kahn affair.

The shots fueled an international media event, and even as the case unravels, they remain indelible images: the debonair head of the International Monetary Fund, a dashing contender for the French presidency, manacled on a public street. Should such shots have been published? In France, and much of Europe, where it’s illegal to show images of the accused, they drew sharp criticism. In this country, the “perp walk” tradition is as American as the right to remain silent, and it is rarely seriously questioned. That may be about to change.

“The perp walk is an abomination to justice,” says Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and frequent critic of the American judicial system. “If I had been [Kahn’s] lawyer, the first thing I would have done is go into federal court and seek an injunction against the perp walk. And I think eventually some lawyer is going to do that—maybe me, maybe some other lawyer—and we’re gonna win.”

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