Monserrate's Assault Trial to Be Decided by a Judge

Monserrate has pleaded not guilty to assault

By COLLEEN LONG
|  Monday, Sep 14, 2009  |  Updated 6:27 PM EDT
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Monserrate's Assault Trial to Be Decided by a Judge

AP

Sen. Hiram Monserrate, D-Queens, faces up to seven years in prison if he's convicted of assault.

A judge — not a jury — will decide whether state Sen. Hiram Monserrate intentionally slashed his girlfriend's face with broken glass in a jealous rage during an argument at his apartment last year.

Monserrate waived his right to a jury Monday. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault in the Dec. 18 incident. The case will be decided by Judge William Erlbaum of the state Supreme Court in Queens.

Opening arguments were set for Sept. 21. If convicted on the top charge, a felony, Monserrate would lose his senate seat and face seven years in prison.

Defense attorney Joseph Tacopina said his client wanted the case to be decided on facts of law, and not on emotion.

"It's a perfect storm. You have a politician, and then you have accusations of domestic violence, and we wanted to avoid jurors who won't hear the evidence and would not be able to see past the accusations," Tacopina said.

Domestic violence protesters had already gathered Monday outside the courthouse. Tacopina expects the protests to continue but said he no longer has to worry about a poisoned jury pool.

Karla Giraldo, 30, initially told officers that an enraged Monserrate broke a glass in his hand, then use the jagged edge to slice her face, prosecutors said. The argument spilled into the hallway, where surveillance video captured a frightened, bleeding woman in distress, according to the police report. The wound required 20 stitches around her left eye.

But after Giraldo learned officers planned to arrest Monserrate she changed her account, saying it was an accident and that she did not want to press charges, prosecutors said.

Monserrate, 42, has vigorously denied the charges, maintaining he tripped holding the glass of water.

If he's convicted of a misdemeanor, he could serve out his term, but it's not clear how his image will fare. Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College, said it could be difficult to win female voters.

"But then again, there are any number of Lazaruses in New York City and American politics," Muzzio said.

Just weeks after the incident, Monserrate, a former city councilman, was sworn in to the state Senate and named chairman of the consumer affairs committee. This summer, he and fellow Democrat Pedro Espada Jr. ignited a coup in the Senate by joining a Republican-dominated coalition that overthrew the majority, resulting in a monthlong deadlock.

Muzzio said Monserrate's role in the Senate coup could further hurt his image.

"There's a conviction or lack of conviction and then there's the court of public opinion," he said. "He may appear unstable on many levels. You don't come back from that."

Monserrate's political spokespeople have called the charges "politically motivated."
 

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