Monsieur Leclerc Cross-Examines

Magistrates are investigating whether Mr. Strauss-Kahn was aware that women who entertained him were prostitutes. One of his lawyers, Henri Leclerc, has ridiculed the idea.

“He could easily not have known, because as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” Mr. Leclerc told a French radio station, Europe 1, in December. – NYT, Feb 21, 2012 (French Police Detain Strauss-Kahn for Questioning, By MAÏA de la BAUME)

Scene: Mr. Leclerc cross-examines a witness for the prosecution in a hypothetical DSK trial.

(M. Leclerc proudly approaches the stand, in which is seated one brunette-haired woman, in her late 20s, of calm, detached demeanor, wearing a black blazer over a low-cut red top which exposes a black shadow-crack of cleavage, above which glimmers a gold necklace with jewels that are perhaps fake, perhaps not. She wears an amount of makeup approaching the gaudy. Her social status could be one of wide range, from petrol station clerk to wife of a well-appointed local government official. Stepping forward, M. Leclerc buttons his double-breasted suit coat in the true manner of a Frenchman, as if the cross-examination were a mere trifle and his masculine stature the actual subject of the trial.)

M. Leclerc: Mademoiselle Surnot, would you tell the court please if you have ever at any time been naked.

Mlle.Surnot: Certainly I have.

M. Leclerc: Yes? And when was that?

Mlle. Surnot: I was born naked, for one. (A portion of her upper lip rises in amusement.)

M. Leclerc: Born naked. Would it be fair to say, then, that nakedness is not only your original state, but your natural state?

Mlle. Surnot: Isn’t it for us all?

M. Leclerc: Not at all. I’m not naked! No one else here is naked. The Honorable Judge Jean-Pierre Fountainebleu is most decently and appropriately clothed!

Mlle. Surnot: Undernearth you are naked. Underneath we all are naked.

M. Leclerc: The court is not concerned, nor is this jury, with what is going on underneath anything, I assure you.

Mlle. Surnot: If you say so. (The woman, who looked bored from the onset, now appears to have had her expectations fulfilled. She opens the handbag in her lap, producing a pack of Gauloises cigarettes. She lights one and exhales upwards with disdain and, it must be said, ennui.)

M. Leclerc: And what is your profession, if you have one?

Mlle. Surnot: I am a prostitute.

M. Leclerc: You sell sex for money.

Mlle. Surnot: Precisely.

M. Leclerc: Sex with yourself.

(Opposing counsel objects, and the objection is overruled. “I’m only trying to establish,” clarifies Leclerc, “the difference between a prostitute and a Madame.”)

Mlle. Surnot: The sex for sale is with me, yes.

M. Leclerc: And how long have you been a prostitute?

Mlle. Surnot: Six years.

M. Leclerc: Six years. And so every day in your line of work you disrobe as a matter of course—indeed for your very livelihood.

Mlle. Surnot: Things go better that way.

M. Leclerc: I image they would. Isn’t it then true, Mlle. Surnot, that by undressing, achieving a state of nakedness every day—

Mlle. Surnot: Every day that I work. I have days off like everyone else.

M. Leclerc: Of course. Every day that you work. But in six years in the profession, you surely are quite adept at it, no?

Mlle. Surnot: Being naked?

M. Leclerc: That’s right.

Mlle. Surnot: It requires no special skill.

M. Leclerc: Says you, an avowed expert!

Mlle. Surnot: (Looking up to the judge, seated above and to her right) This man is allowed to practice law?

M. Leclerc: I’m not only allowed, Mlle. Surnot, I’m encouraged to do so, just as you are encouraged by your clients to remove your clothing! Your jacket, your blouse, your brassiere, your skirt, your shoes, your tights, even your last undergarment!

Mlle. Surnot: It’s an impressive list. You seem familiar.

M. Leclerc: Precisely! As is my client, Mr. Strauss-Kahn. He is familiar with the articles of clothing worn by women, and he knows very well, as we all do, that it is these very articles that distinguish one woman from another, giving her a distinctive look—what we call style—while also telling us a great deal about that woman’s character, everything from her age, her class, right down to her profession. Indeed, I contend that a woman’s clothing is the only thing drawing a clear line between a prostitute and a bus driver, between a prostitute and a zoo keeper, between a prostitute and a photocopier repairwoman, between a prostitute—

Judge: Yes, yes, get on with it, Monsieur Leclerc.

M. Leclerc: What do you say to that, Mlle. Surnot? Surely you cannot disagree?

Mlle. Surnot: If a naked woman is in your bed and you are paying her for sex, that is the easiest way to tell if she is a prostitute.

M. Leclerc: Seemingly. Seemingly. But when one has several, or even a dozen naked women in a room, as one does for an orgy of the sort that you, Mlle. Surnot, and my client, Monsiuer Strauss-Kahn, conducted, along with 15 other persons, on the night in question (and 44 other nights, as established by this court), there can be no question that given the overwhelming nakedness of all present, all identifying markers are absent, and therefore determining who is and who isn’t a prostitute is quite impossible. I have no further questions.

Mlle. Surnot: Thank god.