Strauss-Kahn Case A Big Test For Manhattan D.A. Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. must decide soon whether to drop the case against the former IMF chief or to pursue it despite concerns about the accuser's credibility. It may be the hardest decision Vance has faced since taking office 20 months ago.


Strauss-Kahn Case A Big Test For Manhattan D.A.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie. It will soon become clear whether prosecutors will pursue the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The former head of the International Monetary Fund is due back in court on Tuesday. The case against him faltered after prosecutors revealed problems with the credibility of his accuser, a hotel housekeeper. And now the woman's lawyer says prosecutors have summoned his client to their offices tomorrow. The lawyer expects she'll hear that the Manhattan district attorney wants to drop all or some of the charges. NPR's Joel Rose has this profile of the D.A., Cyrus Vance, Jr., who carries the same name as his father, a former secretary of state.

JOEL ROSE: Cyrus Vance has some big shoes to fill.


ROSE: His predecessor, Robert Morgenthau, held the job for 35 years. He's said to be the model for the rumpled, seen-it-all D.A. Adam Schiff on the long-running TV show "Law and Order."


STEVEN HILL: (as Adam Schiff) A girl raped, sister on trial, Shaballah(ph) agreeing with the jury. She'll milk 'em until they moo. You see a winner?

ROSE: Cyrus Vance cuts a very different figure. With a head full of silvery-red hair and designer glasses, Vance looks more likely to be cast as a corporate attorney or the son of a former secretary of state, which is exactly what he is. Friends describe Vance as something of an idealist. Elkan Abramowitz is a partner at the New York law firm where Vance worked before running for D.A.

ELKAN ABRAMOWITZ, ATTORNEY: He wanted this job because he really believes in the justice system. He believes that you need somebody to run an office like this with that kind of power who will do the right thing, as he's fond of saying.

ROSE: Vance grew up in New York and worked in the Manhattan D.A.'s office after law school. But in 1988, he moved to Seattle, in part, he said, to build a name for himself, far from his father's sphere of influence. Vance moved back to New York in 2004 and ran for D.A. when Morgenthau retired five years later. In a speech last January, Vance described his approach to the job this way:

CYRUS VANCE, JR.: Everything that we do and every decision that I try to make is focused on two questions: Does it make us safer and is it fair? One without the other, I think, are unacceptable.

ROSE: That approach has been sorely tested by the Strauss-Kahn case. At first, Vance drew praise for having the guts to indict one of the most powerful men in the world for sexual assault. But then the case started to unravel, as Vance's own investigation raised troubling questions about the accuser's credibility. His critics, like New York defense attorney Ronald Kuby, who frequently opposes Vance's office in court, say the inexperienced D.A. moved too fast.

RONALD KUBY: Fueled by the desire to finally get that big case, Vance rushed to indict, rushed to hold DSK without bail, reaching for the highest possible headline, resting on the slimmest possible evidence.

ROSE: Vance declined to be interviewed for this story, but his supporters say he's handled the case as well as possible under the circumstances. Still, the case has already become a political liability for Vance. In July, Strauss-Kahn's accuser, Nafissatou Diallo went public, telling her side of the story in the media and at a rally with African-American community leaders. The message from her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, seems to be: Take the Strauss-Kahn case to trial or count on a tough re-election campaign.

KENNETH THOMPSON: Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is too afraid to try this case. We believe that he's afraid that he's going to lose this high-profile case.

ROSE: But Vance's supporters say that kind of political pressure won't sway his decision.

LINDA FAIRSTEIN: I've known Cy Vance for a long time. Fear is not an issue.

ROSE: Linda Fairstein is a former prosecutor who ran the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan D.A.'s office for 26 years and supported Vance's campaign.

FAIRSTEIN: It will come down to whether they're able to work with Miss Diallo and whether anything that's happened in this circus outside the criminal justice system has compromised the case.

ROSE: Diallo may have further undermined her credibility when she filed a civil lawsuit against Strauss-Kahn last week, adding fuel to the theory that she's looking for a big payout. That hasn't made Cyrus Vance's decision about whether to continue with the criminal case any easier. It's a call that might even keep the D.A. on "Law and Order" up at night.


ROSE: Joel Rose, NPR News.

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