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Hearing starts on DSK's bid to get NY suit tossed

Colleen Long, Associated Press

This combo made from file photos shows former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn on June 6, 2011, left, and Nafissatou Diallo on July 28, 2011, in New York. While Strauss-Kahn faces fresh charges in his native France amid a prostitution ring probe, a judge in New York may decide whether to allow a civil case against him filed by Diallo, the hotel maid who said he sexually assaulted her. The first hearing is likely to deal with complex laws that shield diplomats from prosecution and lawsuits in their host countries. (AP Photos)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers tried to persuade a judge Wednesday to throw out a hotel maid's lawsuit against the former International Monetary Fund leader, arguing that he has diplomatic immunity from a civil case that stems from sexual assault allegations that were dropped in criminal court last year.

"Dismissal, your honor, may seem like an unfair result to some, but it's the result the law compels," said one of Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, Amit P. Mehta.

But housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo's lawyers said Strauss-Kahn, often dubbed "DSK," was stretching the rules of immunity to shield himself.

"DSK thinks he can unilaterally, himself, in his own personal capacity, assert diplomatic immunity and not be held accountable for his actions," said one of Diallo's lawyers, Douglas H. Wigdor.

Wednesday's hearing came as Strauss-Kahn faced fresh charges in his native France amid a prostitution investigation.

In New York, the 62-year-old diplomat, once a potential French presidential candidate, was charged last year with attempted rape and other crimes after his May 14 encounter with Diallo, but the criminal case was dismissed after prosecutors lost faith in her credibility.

Still, she vowed to have her day in court and sued Strauss-Kahn.

Wednesday's hearing, the first in the lawsuit, dealt with complex laws that shield diplomats from prosecution and lawsuits in their host countries.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers argued that their client is immune under a 1947 United Nations agreement that afforded the privilege to heads of "specialized agencies," including the International Monetary Fund. Although the United States didn't sign that agreement, Strauss-Kahn's attorneys say it has gained so much acceptance elsewhere that it has attained the status of what's known as "customary international law."

Strauss-Kahn was carrying a travel document at the time that said he was entitled to those immunities, his lawyers note.

Courts "have dismissed suits just like this one on grounds of immunity," Mehta told Bronx state Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon before an audience that included a cadre of reporters. Neither Strauss-Kahn nor Diallo, 33, attended the hearing.

McKeon vigorously questioned Strauss-Kahn's lawyers. He noted that the IMF's own organizing documents specifically don't grant its director the broad immunity Strauss-Kahn claims, and that Strauss-Kahn — who resigned his IMF post days after his arrest — didn't assert immunity in the criminal case.

Mehta said that was because Strauss-Kahn had "been falsely accused of something he hadn't done, and it wasn't in his interest to raise a defense that might seem purely procedural. It was in his interest to fight those charges."

He argued that although Strauss-Kahn no longer had the IMF job when he was sued in August, he still had immunity because another international agreement gives departing diplomats a "reasonable" amount of time to leave their host countries before their immunity expires. Strauss-Kahn was sued while he was under a criminal court order to stay in the country, so he couldn't leave, his lawyer noted.

The judge asked for examples of court cases or legal writing to support that argument; Mehta said he wasn't aware of any legal writing on the issue.

Diallo's attorneys said Strauss-Kahn's argument is overreaching and misses the mark. Shortly after Strauss-Kahn's arrest, an IMF spokesman said Strauss-Kahn didn't have immunity because he was on personal business during his encounter with Diallo, Wigdor noted. Strauss-Kahn was visiting his daughter in New York.

When police pulled Strauss-Kahn from an Air France flight and arrested him, he declared he had diplomatic immunity, but he ultimately didn't push the issue amid the criminal case that eventually dissolved in August.

Strauss-Kahn has called the encounter a "moral failing" but insists it wasn't violent.

Since then, Strauss-Kahn has seen his sexual behavior scrutinized internationally. On Monday, he was handed preliminary charges in France alleging he was involved in a hotel prostitution ring including prominent city figures and police in Lille.

Investigating judges questioned him for about eight hours and gave him preliminary charges of "aggravated procurement in an organized gang." Under French law, preliminary charges mean authorities have reason to believe a crime was committed but allow more time for investigation.

A judge has barred him from speaking with media until further investigation.

His French lawyer said the married Strauss-Kahn engaged in "libertine" acts but did nothing legally wrong, and is being unfairly targeted for his extramarital sex life. He's free on bail.

After the New York case, a French writer also came forward to say Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her during a 2003 interview, but Paris prosecutors said the case was too old to try.

The Associated Press generally doesn't name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Diallo has done.