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NYT City Room: No Jail for Monserrate

December 4, 2009

State Senator Hiram Monserrate, a former police officer and New York City councilman, was sentenced on Friday to three years of probation and 250 hours of community service for recklessly causing physical injury to his companion by dragging her through the lobby of his Queens apartment building.

Mr. Monserrate was also told to participate in a 52-week treatment program.

“He doesn’t get a break. He doesn’t get a handout. He gets what any other person gets in this situation,” Justice William M. Erlbaum said in delivering the sentence.

Before learning his fate, Mr. Monserrate, who did not testify at his trial, apologized to his companion, Karla Giraldo, saying, “I love her very much.”

The sentencing was an unusually long proceeding for a misdemeanor case — it began at 9:30 a.m. and did not end until four hours later. And it was punctuated by a remarkable back-and-forth between Justice Erlbaum and Ms. Giraldo over whether to lift an order of protection that had kept her and Mr. Monserrate apart for almost a year.

“What, Karla Giraldo, are you?” Justice Erlbaum asked, wondering whether she was a submissive woman or an assertive one.

Whispering to an interpreter, who relayed her words to the court, Ms. Giraldo replied, “He does not dominate me. He doesn’t have any control over my life.”

The judge, however, stayed the protective order, but said he could reevaluate his decision in the future.

Mr. Monserrate had already escaped worse punishment, though. He had been charged with two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of assault after cutting Ms. Giraldo’s face during a bitter argument in his apartment on Dec. 19, 2008. In October, Justice Erlbaum, who presided over his trial, acquitted him on the two felony assault charges, which carried a mandatory sentence of seven years in prison and would have forced him to forfeit his Senate seat.

He was convicted on a single count of misdemeanor assault, which carried a maximum of one year behind bars. He received a lighter sentence largely because he was a first-time offender.

Misdemeanor convictions do not call for an automatic expulsion from the Legislature. But a Senate committee is investigating whether to censure, suspend or expel Mr. Monserrate, who has vowed not to resign.

The case drew condemnation from women’s rights groups, who clamored for severe penalties against Mr. Monserrate, and state and city legislators, who demanded his resignation.

It unfolded just as Mr. Monserrate, a freshman Democrat, played one of the leading roles in a bitter dispute over Senate leadership in Albany. He aligned himself with the Republicans and then rejoined the Democrats, in a move many of his colleagues characterized as bullish and egotistical.

He was much more subdued in court, where he was often accompanied by a sizable entourage of relatives, friends and supporters that included his father and pastor. Even Ms. Giraldo, whose face he had been accused of purposely slashing with a broken glass, stood up for him. In emotional testimony, she repeatedly asserted he had injured her accidentally.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Monserrate, an ex-Marine, lashed out at Ms. Giraldo with a glass in a fit of rage after he found another man’s business card in her purse. The glass broke against her face, cutting her near her left eye down to her skull and leaving a lasting scar.

Justice Erlbaum said, however, that he could not ascertain beyond a reasonable doubt that what happened inside Mr. Monserrate’s apartment was an intentional attack.

The conviction was based on a video that showed Mr. Monserrate dragging Ms. Giraldo through the lobby of his building in Jackson Heights and on statements that doctors at Long Island Jewish Medical Center said Ms. Giraldo made to them, claiming that he had attacked her during a fight.

Ruling on a motion by lawyers representing the State Senate committee probing the incident, Justice Erlbaum agreed to release transcripts of Ms. Giraldo’s grand jury testimony, but denied their request for copies of other testimonies and documents presented to grand jury.

The lawyers, Daniel R. Alonso and David L. Lewis, said that the committee is specifically interested in what transpired in the 37 minutes that took Mr. Monserrate and Ms. Giraldo to drive from his home to the hospital. The committee’s goal is to determine whether Mr. Monserrate meets “the standards of fitness to serve,” Mr. Alonso said.

From The New York Times.

  1. John Stratum permalink
    December 5, 2009 5:40 pm

    It’s funny how some Senator’s call the kettle black.

    • Gerry permalink
      December 8, 2009 12:57 pm

      Pot. Kettle. Black.

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