Thursday, February 11, 2010

NY state legislator convicted of misdemeanor assault of girlfriend - sentenced to 3 years probation, expelled from NY Senate

(Original Post 10-17-09)
A prominent New York politician escaped a felony conviction Thursday, October 15 for beating his girlfriend, 30 year old Karla Girardo. However, it seems like 42 year old New York State Senator Hiram Monserratte won't be entirely in the clear. There are already calls for the Democratic Senator representing the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens to be ousted. Felony convictions automatically lead to dismissal from the New York lesiglature, but not misdemeanors.

Addressing a crowded and tense courtroom, Erlbaum said that Monserrate was guilty only of shoving around Giraldo - an attack captured on tape and played in court.

"Only two people" know for sure what happened inside Monserrate's apartment on Dec. 19, 2008, when Giraldo's face was cut, the judge said.

Erlbaum said he could not say for sure if Giraldo was lying, as prosecutors contended. "Can one know she's not being forgiving or that she's not being compassionate?" he said. "One can't know that." Erlbaum concluded, "Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is lacking."

"Yes!" a Monserrate supporter yelled after Monserrate skated on the most serious charges.

Those charges come from an incident in which the state senator from Queens allegedly pushed around Giraldo and cut her face up with a piece of broken glass. The misdemeanor assault charges the politician was found guilty on stemmed from a scuffle in front of security cameras. Queens DA Richard Brown had no problems with the conviction on lesser charges, stating that  the verdict (and surveillance camera) showed that "the defendant physically abused his victim."

Though the misdemeanor conviction calls for a sentence of up to a year in jail, Monserrate will probably get probation, according to his attorney Joe Tacopina. "On a reckless misdemeanor, first offense, he won't go to jail," Tacopina said.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle, as well as leaders of the New York chapter of NOW, are demanding Montserrate's resignation, even though the resignation could cost NY Democrats there slim majority in the NY Senate.

According to state senator Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), the conviction meant that "ouster is an option . . . it should be seriously considered. It's an assault against a woman. I would hope he would just step aside and move on, but I know better. He ain't going anywhere."

"I was praying that [expletive deleted] would get convicted and he would be gone," said an anonymous Democratic politician. A second senator stated that "a lot of people want to oust him. As the days go by, I think most people will (agree) that we should get rid of the guy. This is not a guy who most of his colleagues want to see back."

Marcia Pappas, president of New York NOW, said "The man is violent. If the Democratic leadership took some kind of action it would certainly send a strong message to women around the state that they are serious about protecting women."

New York Daily News columnist Joanna Molloy has her own take on this incident.

Amazingly, according to Tacopina, "She loves him, as she testified in court. As he said yesterday, he loves her...And they're looking to get back together and resume their marriage...uh, relationship."

To which GDNY (Good Day New York) anchor Rosanna Scotto said, "Will they get married?" and Tacopina replied, "Maybe I said marriage, maybe I let the cat out of the bag, but that's where it's heading."

A few of Monserrate's constituents were also taken aback by the verdict. One woman said, "How do you accidentally smack her with a bottle? I think he did it and she’s afraid. He should be in jail," while a man who previously voted for Monserrate but won't do so again told the NY Times, "He’s a lucky man. Any normal person would be locked up for years. Domestic violence. Guaranteed. You don’t hit a woman. You love a woman."

Monseratte faces up to a year in jail at his sentencing December 4.

(Update 12-5-09) Monserrate was sentenced to 3 years probation, a $1000 fine, 250 hours of community service, and domestic violence counseling for the attach on Giraldo yesterday. He said before Judge Erlbaum that "I am here because of my own actions . . . I am so sorry for the harm Karla Giraldo endured and suffered...It's very difficult, your honor, not to be with her. She deserves happiness, nothing but good."

Giraldo said in Spanish that  "I don't need an order of protection. I want to be with him. I want to continue my normal life," Giraldo, 30, told the judge in Spanish. "Before this we had plans. We would like to get married."

Judge Erlbaum, to his credit, recognized that Giraldo was still under the thrall of her abuser, so he continued the protection order barring Monserrate from seeing her. "I am loath to say you can't be together. But a promise alone that Mr. Monserrate will respect her autonomy is a far cry from remedying the green-eyed monster of jealousy. I hope the time will come that Karla Giraldo will have the self-respect to stop acting like a slave."

Giraldo's lawyer hopes that the protection order is lifted. The New York Senate's Special Committee of Inquiry will decide whether to expel him later this month.

(Update 2-11-10) On Tuesday night, Monserrate was expelled from the New York State Senate by a 53-8 vote. This was the first expulsion from the NY Senate since 1861. All 30 Republicans and 23 Democrats voted for expulsion, with Governor David Patterson announcing a special election for March 16.

Monserrate said that his expulsion was unwarranted because others expelled from the New York Senate committed other, more serious violations.

   Make no mistake about it, this is an effort by some in this body to publicly demonstrate that it is going to expiate all of its sins, and Hiram Monserrate is the perfect scapegoat for your absolution...[I] have also seen a long list of others who were convicted or plead to misdemeanors; many negotiated these pleas to avoid felony convictions. And in all that time no one stood up to say, ‘enough’s enough,’ even when the behavior became common knowledge .

   Yet with all of this history of corrupt and suspect behavior, no senator has ever been forced to face the prospect of expulsion until now...Let me remind everyone that a new election cycle is right around the corner,” he said “If my sins are of such magnitude that the voters of the 13th Senatorial District feel that they can no longer support my continued service-then so be it. It should be up to them to expel me, if they should so decide, but not up to this body.”

Major state newspapers applauded the decision. So did the president of New York NOW, Marcia Pappas, who said, "Anything less than expulsion was not acceptable. Any form of violence against women is not acceptable."

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