A New York Story: Senator Found Not Innocent But Not Guilty

Bookmark and Share   On his New York State Senate Web site the top story his office offers reads “Senator Monserrate Celebrates Central American Culture and Heritage in Corona, NY”. It’s not exactly an intriguing or compelling story about courageous or innovative leadership that tackles any of the problems facing troubled New Yorkers but it is a much less controversial read than “Senator Monserrate Awaits His Fates After Slashing Girlfriend In Face”. But perhaps it is the safest story to highlight when you have little in the way of meaningful political accomplishments and you actually are waiting to here a verdict in a case where you are accused of slashing your girlfriend in the face and dragging her around the streets of New York as she cries and bleeds.

092209_hirammonserrate_emk07.JPGSuch is how Queens, New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate has spent his day until at about 3;45 this afternoon a judge stated that Monserrate was not innocent but he was found “not guilty” of the most serious charges against but guilty of lesser charges.

Based on the slashing accusations outlined above, a grand jury charged Monserrate on three counts of felony assault on his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo. He was originally arrested for the incident on December 19, 2008 and later that same day, pled not guilty to the charges of second-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon along with three counts of misdemeanor assault.

The incident apparently involved an argument between Monserrate and Giraldo that took place in in his Queens apartment. Originally Karla Giraldo reported to police that Senator Monserrate was intentionally responsible for acts that ultimately cut her under the eye with broken glass. Giraldo later recanted her story and claimed that it was all an accident. From that point on, she became an uncooperative witness in the case. As for Senator Monserrate, in an official public statement he said “Listen, the reality is that from the very beginning I have said this was an accident. My girlfriend said it’s an accident. This is an accident and we look forward to the dismissal of all these charges based on the truth”.

As the case proceeded, Monserrate waived his right to a trial by jury. According to his attorney, Joe Toccapina, a jury consultant and polls revealed to him that Senator. Monserrate could not get a fair trial before a jury anywhere in the state. The move only raised doubt about what was really going on behind the scenes especially since the judge ultimately deciding Monserrates’s fate is Justice William M. Erlbaum of State Supreme Court in Queens. Before even going to trial, Erlbaum has been making procedural rulings that have all gone against the Senator. Yet Monserrrate and his defense still preferred their chances with one judge as opposed to their chances with a jury of 12.

Monserrate's Victim/Girlfriend Karla Giraldo

Monserrate's Victim/Girlfriend Karla Giraldo

With none of the court related details in the case public as of yet, it was hard to tell if the initial story that Karla Giraldo would be considered more true than her retraction. After making herself an uncooperative witness, she had to be subpoenaed into court and forced to appear in court. Being what could be considered a hostile witness, any attempts to explain her initial claims that Moneratte assaulted her could have possibly been not be taken at face value but even more than Giraldo’s changing testimony was video that was placed into evidence in the matter.

Surveillance cameras in the Senator’s apartment building, caught Monserrate and Giraldo on the night of the incident in question. On it Giraldo is seen crying and fleeing down a staircase, with Monserrate rapidly coming down behind. As Giraldo comes off the stairs she begins knocking on a neighbors door at the bottom of the steps. Next thing you see is Monserrate yanking her away and whisking her off. The cameras then catch a struggling Giraldo losing a bag that gets caught on a banister and as it falls to the floor, Monserrate continues to pull her to an exit and outside of its doors. The video evidence continues as exterior surveillance cameras then catch Senator Monserrate tightly holding on to Giraldo and pushing and prodding her down the street outside of his apartment as she cries.

The tape did not necessarily provide all that is needed to make an airtight conviction here, but it was enough for  Judge Erlbaum to find Monserrate guilty of reckless injuring Giraldo.  According to Erlbaum, it was obvious that Giraldo was not someone being willingly escorted out of the building and down the street.  The reckless injury is considered a misdemeanor.

A neighbor who was called as wittness in the case had testified that he had a very loud and raucos fight on the night of the event,  but faced with Monserrate and Giraldo’s statements in court, Judge Erlbaum could still not convict the Senator of the most severe charges in the case. 

The judges decision could have put Monserrate behind bars for as much as seven years in prison if he found him guilty of assault.   That meant that Senator Monserrate was not alone in his intense interest in the verdict. New York Democrats also awaited to see if they had to continue contending with the combative, loose cannon that Monserrate tends to be. Many would not have minded seeing a decision of guilt in the case.  Had he been found guilty, legislative rules would have required his immediate expulsion, a result that would havel pleased some of his legislative colleagues.

Not long ago Monserastte and one other Democrat Senator joined together in a move that paralyzed the New State legislature. Attempts to remove the then leader of the senate, a Democrat, Monserrate and State Senator Espada switched to join with Republicans and provided an even split which created a deadlock that could not be broken. The impasse was further cemented due to the fact that there was no Lieutenant Governor who could provide a tie breaking vote. When Governor Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign amid scandal, then Lt. Governor David Paterson became Governor Paterson, thereby creating a vacancy in the LG position.

There were no existing procedures to replace someone in the job and when David Patterson tried to appoint someone, members of the state senate challenged the action in state court.

Since then the courts have determined that Paterson could legally appoint someone to the seat but at the time, Monserrate’s escapades helped to stop all business from being conducted due to the deadlock that he created all because he did not like the democrat Senate Leader.

The episode left a bad taste in many Democrat’s mouths and wouldn’t mind seeing Monserrate eliminated as a player in state government. This is especially the case since there is no risk of Monerserrate’s senate seat falling into Republican hands. The district is solidly Democrat. So much so that if they decided to run Rod Blagojevic for the job, he would be a shoo-in.

Having been found not guilty, state business marches on with an incompetent Governor, an inepot state assembly and a corrupt and ridiculously ineffective state senate that now has a leader who is described as a “thoroughly undistinguished legislator”, whose major claim to fame is that he once tried to block a District Attorney from prosecuting a Democrat Assemblyman and Democrat Party County Chairman on charges of corruption.

All of this allows us to draw a very appropriate comparisson  between the charges that once surrounded Senator Hiram Moneserrate and his once alleged abused girlfriend Karla Giraldo. Monserrate is very representatives of New York State government and Giraldo represents the citizens of the state.  Just as Giraldo was originally seen as being beaten up by Monserrate, the citizens of New York are being beaten down by state government. The only difference is that Monserrate could have been  punished if he was found to have assaulted his girlfriend while the New York State legislature is not likely to be punished anytime soon for their assault in the quality of life of New Yorkers.

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