NEW YORK — Dominique Strauss-Kahn formally asserted his innocence Monday to charges that he tried to rape a hotel maid, but the drama unfolded outside the Manhattan courtroom as protesters jeered the former International Monetary Fund leader and attorneys for the housekeeper said she was eager to testify despite a "smear campaign" against her.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn's attorneys offered a rival account of the May 14 encounter at his $3,000-a-night Manhattan hotel suite, hinting again that the French diplomat might argue the encounter was consensual.
By the end of the case, "It will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever," defense attorney Ben Brafman said. "Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible."
Mr. Strauss-Kahn, looking resolute, declared "not guilty" in a strong voice in a routine legal proceeding that lasted less than 10 minutes as his wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, watched. He said nothing else, save for "yes" when acknowledging he had received a standard warning that he could be tried in absentia if he failed to appear.
It was the French diplomat's first court appearance since he was released on $6 million in cash bail and bond last month. He has been under house arrest that includes 24-hour monitors and armed guards in a deluxe town house in the trendy Tribeca neighborhood.
As Mr. Strauss-Kahn left the courthouse, a throng of angry hotel workers, many in their uniforms, chanted "shame on you" as he left in a black sport utility vehicle.
The protesters wanted to send the message that "New York is the wrong place to mess with a hotel worker," said Aissata Bocum, a Ramada Inn housekeeper. The 50 or so workers, mostly maids, were bused in by their union.
After Mr. Strauss-Kahn was driven away, his attorneys duked it out with attorneys for the accuser, a 32-year-old West African immigrant. In sequential statements before an international horde of reporters, each side's representatives argued that their client's version of events would prevail.
Mr. Brafman said the attorneys would not try the case publicly, but referred to Mr. Strauss-Kahn's not-guilty plea as "a very eloquent, powerful statement that he made that he denies the charges."
Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, was scheduled to check out of the Sofitel hotel, near Times Square, the day of the encounter. The maid told police he chased her down a hallway in his suite May 14, tried to pull down her pantyhose and forced her to perform oral sex.
The maid's attorney, Kenneth Thompson, said his client would testify at trial and tell the truth despite the "smear campaign that is being committed against her."
He was referring to mostly French media reports alleging a conspiracy against Mr. Strauss-Kahn and suggesting her story was invented. The defense also has alluded to having damning information against the maid but has not released it.
"The victim wants you to know that all of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's power, money and influence throughout the world will not keep the truth about what he did to her in that hotel room from coming out," Mr. Thompson said. "She is standing up for women around the world, sexually assaulted, who are too afraid to come forward."
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office did not comment outside court.
The case has rocked France, where he had been considered a potential contender in next year's presidential elections, and shook up the IMF. He resigned amid the scandal and proclaimed his innocence in a letter to staff. The powerful lending organization has yet to name his replacement.