Time will tell.
Six weeks ago, former Seattle attorney and now Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. was triumphantly announcing the sexual-assault indictment of 62-year-old International Monetary Fund manager Dominique Strauss-Kahn. DSK, as he's called by the media, was perp-walked for the cameras, facing the loss of his job and French political career. Vance basked in the triumph of his biggest case so far after 18 months in the DA's chair, previously filled for 35 years by the legendary Robert Morganthau--the inspiration for Sam Waterston's DA Jack McCoy on TV's Law & Order.
Time will tell.
But today it's DSK who is smiling as he strolls to NYC restaurants with his mega-millionaire wife, the case against him for assaulting a hotel maid in apparent collapse, along with the maid's story. Meanwhile Vance is being called out by attorneys and the media after the indictment was turned on its head, allowing DSK to declare himself a victim and be portrayed in Paris as a martyr.
Vance "is too afraid to try this case," the maid's attorney, Ken Thompson, said at a NYC press conference. "We believe that he's afraid that he's going to lose this high-profile case."
Similarly, DA office morale is sagging and relations with the NYPD have grown tense at times, The New York Times reports. Several DA staffers say they worried that some cases had been pursued partly on the basis of whether they would generate publicity for Vance's office. Vance also took away the autonomy long given to mid-level prosecutors.
Vance's relationship with Morganthau, who anointed Vance as his successor, has also cooled. Vance worked for Morgenthau in the 1980s before coming to Seattle as a private attorney. He practiced here for 16 years, was a Seattle University law instructor, and represented such clients as Mary Kay Letourneau's victim/husband Vili Fualaau and former University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel. He's still a state bar member.
The son of President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, Vance moved back to his native NYC in 2004, and, with Morganthau's blessings, won the DA's job in the 2009 election. Now, says the Times, Morgenthau, 91, rarely speaks to Vance. He doesn't like Vance's management style and staff changes.
The DSK case began to come apart after the maid was found to have lied on her taxes and asylum application. She had not, as claimed, been gang-raped in Guinea, and prosecutors learned from Arizona authorities that she discussed--in a recorded jail phone chat with her imprisoned drug-dealing fiance--the possibility she could cash in on the DSK assault claim.
Those developments made her credibility an issue, and DSK's high-priced lawyers could surely take advantage on the witness stand. News reports today indicate Vance may drop the case altogether now.
This comes after the surprise acquittal in May of two NYPD officers charged with raping a drunken fashion-house staffer they had escorted home. They were convicted of lesser charges; that was the result as well of two men charged in a high-profile terrorism case prosecuted by Vance's office.
But Vance says those are just part of the wins and losses in a very long season. "Ultimately, the success of a DA's office, and of a DA, is measured not in individual cases, but over time," he says.
"The cases you don't read about," he added, "define what the job of a DA really is." Perhaps. But obviously not to the reading, and voting, public.