The New York Senate voted Tuesday night to expel a senator convicted of a misdemeanor charge of assaulting his girlfriend, a resolution the lawmaker assailed as an injustice to the people who elected him.
The Senate voted 53-8 to oust Sen. Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat who at trial last year was convicted of dragging girlfriend Karla Giraldo through his apartment lobby in December 2008 but acquitted of felony assault. A felony conviction would have automatically cost him his job.
Monserrate apologized for any discredit his conduct brought to the Senate, but he said Tuesday's vote was depriving voters of their right to choose a representative.
"We look forward to the court's intervening to protect the constitutional rights of the people that I represent," he said.
Attorney Steve Hyman said he and Monserrate will file a federal lawsuit challenging his removal as soon as possible. They will seek court orders preventing officials from removing him or holding a special election to replace him, both said.
Gov. David Paterson said he will call a special election for March 16 to fill the Senate seat. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office is prepared to defend the Senate's decision, spokesman John Milgrim said.
Monserrate is separately appealing his criminal conviction.
"The Senate cannot turn a blind eye to an act of domestic violence, a crime for which the state of New York has a zero-tolerance policy, and an attempt to evade responsibility for such a crime through dishonesty and bullying," said Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who chaired a special investigations committee that recommended censuring or expelling Monserrate. He said Monserrate's conduct damaged the integrity of the Senate.
The committee criticized Monserrate for refusing to cooperate with its investigation. Its report noted that he was convicted of dragging his girlfriend in a domestic incident and told a judge he took full responsibility for his actions. But in later media interviews, he didn't acknowledge that, the report said.
Monserrate has said he was trying to get her to the hospital to treat a facial cut, which he and Giraldo said was an accident from a glass he was holding earlier that night. A judge sentenced him for the misdemeanor to three years' probation, 250 hours of community service and 52 weeks of domestic abuse counseling.
The eight votes opposed to expulsion included those who wanted to censure Monserrate, which would have disciplined him but left him in his seat.
Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, said the Democratic conference voted to expel Monserrate "to get even" for his role in a brief coup in which he joined Republicans to topple the Democrats. When pressed for a vote during his speech, Diaz said to his colleagues that he votes against all of them.
The Democrats hold a narrow 32-30 majority including Monserrate, who with another Democrat briefly joined with Republicans last year in a coalition that resulted in monthlong legislative gridlock before they switched back.