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It's hard for a social commentator to keep up with all of the legal, moral and political lessons offered up by the still-unfolding Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex mess. But the most important is this: Don't rush to judgment.

That's not easy. We live in an impatient age, bristling with heat-seeking media and audiences hungry for fast justice before their restless attention spans switch to the next topic.

In the case of the former International Monetary Fund chief, our public sympathies took a big enough switcheroo from condemnation to exoneration to give us ethical whiplash.

Not since the Shirley Sherrod case a year ago have we seen such a flip-flop. The Georgia-based Department of Agriculture official, wrongly accused of giving a racist speech, was forced to resign via her BlackBerry last July, only to be offered her job back with public apologies -- plus a personal phone call from President Barack Obama.

It's not wise to rush to judgment, although police and prosecutors are constantly pushed to do it.

Strauss-Kahn can only wish that his outcome had been as happily swift and certain as Sherrod's.

Depending on where you walked in on his story, he's either a suspected rapist of an immigrant hotel maid from Africa or a victim of a setup, grievously wronged by a woman with a history of lying and also alleged links to drug traffickers and other crimes, including prostitution.

As the case against him began to fall apart, Strauss-Kahn's political fortunes back home began to look up again. His approval ratings surged, along with talk of his return to national politics, where he had been a leading potential challenger to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But for him, troubling questions remain, either in legal courts or the courts of public opinion, here and in France. His accuser has a terrible record, but that doesn't mean she wasn't raped. She could be telling the truth, but her history of lies to police and immigration officials, plus her questionable associations, makes her a poor prospect for cross-examination by defense attorneys.

The tragedy of this saga is in how much the high-profile collapse of her case against Strauss-Kahn might discourage other, quite legitimate, crime victims from reporting their crimes and pursuing prosecution.

Quite the opposite response is said to have motivated French novelist Tristane Banon, 31, to file a formal complaint against Strauss-Kahn, who she previously said had tried to rape her in his apartment during an interview in 2003. Strauss-Kahn is countering with a defamation suit against her for making the charge. Can she obtain justice? Can he?

Besides Strauss-Kahn's political future, there is the question of what happens to the issues of sexual harassment and women's rights, which have surged as a topic of serious national debate in France. It also didn't hurt the rise of eminently qualified Christine Lagarde to replace Strauss-Kahn as head of the IMF.

Strauss-Kahn was arrested as he was about to leave the country for France. With no time to fully investigate the background of the witness, a rush to judgment was made and Strauss-Kahn received a glimpse of something wealthy French politicians seldom get a chance to witness: America's legal system as it is experienced by those who can't afford the best justice money can buy.