ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Two senior Senate Democrats and the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women called Friday for Sen. Hiram Monserrate to leave office following his conviction on a misdemeanor charge for assaulting his girlfriend.
With legal fees topping a half-million dollars, Monserrate has a defense fund set up by a network of backers, according to a person familiar with the case who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about Monserrate’s finances, said the network consists of “high-net individuals” and Monserrate did not use campaign funds to pay legal bills.
Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group says Monserrate should release the names of all who donated since some may have business before the state government.
“The public has a right to know if wealthy individuals or interest groups are picking up the tab for the senator’s legal defense,” Horner said.
Calls to Monserrate, a Queens Democrat, were not immediately returned Friday.
Monserrate was found guilty of misdemeanor assault Thursday. Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan called it “a very disturbing and violent crime against a woman” and said he should resign for the good of his constituents, the Senate and the party.
Sen. Neil Breslin, an Albany Democrat, said later that Monserrate “should do the right thing” and step down. He said Monserrate remaining in office would contradict lawmakers’ efforts to win back public trust.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, a Democrat who represents parts of Queens in Congress and chairs the county Democratic organization, said Monserrate should resign immediately. “His violent behavior was not befitting a public official,” he said.
“He’s not going to resign,” defense attorney Joseph Tacopina said Friday.
Monserrate was convicted of dragging his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, through the lobby of his Queens apartment building as she was bleeding during an argument last December. He was acquitted of charges he smashed her face with glass. The wound required between 20 and 40 stitches and both Monserrate and Giraldo said it was an accident. He could face up to a year in jail at sentencing Dec. 4.
The National Organization for Women urged the Senate Democratic leadership to expel Monserrate. NOW’s New York chapter also criticized the Queens judge who acquitted the ex-cop of a felony assault charge that would have automatically removed him from office, saying women are afraid to speak up against abusers who walk free.
“Monserrate will retain his prestigious state Senate seat, unless of course, the Democratic leadership finds the courage to oust him for his behavior,” NOW said. The group said it feared that won’t happen “for political expediency” that would leave the Senate’s narrow 32-30 Democratic majority intact.
A resolution to censure or expel Monserrate would require 32 votes. Jail time would increase pressure on lawmakers to remove him.
His term expires in 2010. If he resigns or is expelled, Gov. David Paterson would call a special election for a seat Democrats expect to keep.
Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, defended Monserrate, saying he was convicted of “trying to do good by forcing his girlfriend to go to the hospital for treatment.”
Senate Democratic Conference spokesman Austin Shafran said Friday said the options for further disciplinary action under state law and Senate rules were still being discussed. “While violence against women is a serious crime which must be viewed with the utmost concern, resignation is a decision for an individual senator to make,” he said.
A spokesman for the Senate Republicans, John McArdle, said they expected Sampson and Senate President Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, “will deal with this in an appropriate fashion.”
Just weeks after the December incident, Monserrate was sworn in to the state Senate, and named chairman of the consumer affairs committee. This summer, he and fellow Democrat Pedro Espada Jr. brazenly ignited a coup in the Senate by joining a Republican-dominated coalition that overthrew the majority. The deadlock lasted a month before it was resolved, leaving Democrats with majority control.
A restraining order against Monserrate remains in place until sentencing. Tacopina said he didn’t expect any jail time for his client and that the order would be lifted.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long in New York City contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.