Kerry Kennedy said Thursday her work for human rights will keep her from being on hand when jurors are chosen for her drugged-driving trial.
Kennedy waived her right to attend jury selection on Feb. 20 and 21, repeatedly saying "Yes, sir" to a judge who questioned her closely to make sure she understood what she was giving up.
She said outside court that she would be on a week-long trip to Moroccan-ruled Western Sahara and elsewhere to "fight child labor, try to end child slavery" as president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, named for her late father.
She said she will also be speaking to the European Parliament in Brussels. She told the judge she would be back in time for the Feb. 24 start of the trial.
Kennedy, ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, swerved her Lexus into a tractor-trailer near her home in the New York City suburbs in 2012. Tests revealed a small amount of a sleeping drug in her blood. She said she accidentally took a sleeping pill.
The dates for jury selection and trial were set by acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary despite two new attempts by defense attorneys to get the misdemeanor charge dismissed.
Attorney Gerald Lefcourt said after the court session Thursday that he has asked the judge to reconsider a previous judge's refusal to dismiss the case. The lawyer said the prosecution has recently acknowledged it has no evidence Kennedy took the pill on purpose, which he said is a key element of the charge.
Lefcourt also asked that if the dismissal is denied, a grand jury be empaneled to consider whether the charge is warranted.
A spokesman for the district attorney's office declined to comment. Prosecutors have until Jan. 31 to respond to the two motions.
Neary, who is new to the Kennedy case, met in private with lawyers for both sides before the session in open court.
Until last week, the case was being tried in North Castle Town Court. But at the request of Kennedy's lawyers, it was transferred to the county courthouse in White Plains. They said the meeting room in Armonk that the town uses for a courtroom was unsuitable for a high-profile trial.
An administrative judge agreed, noting that the town courtroom has no jury box, no tables for the lawyers and not enough room for reporters and the public.
Last year, when Kennedy's lawyers asked the town judge to dismiss the case, their court papers included a large file of letters praising Kennedy's work for social justice. Her mother, Ethel Kennedy, wrote that human rights activists around the world need her daughter's "compassion, keen insight, judgment and support."
The judge acknowledged that Kennedy "is not a typical criminal defendant. She has achieved a great deal and is dedicated to good works." But she said dismissal might lead the public to believe "that there are two justice systems: one for the rich and powerful, and one for everybody else."