No jail time for Senator Hiram Monserrate

There will be no jail time for State Senator Hiram Monserrate.

Queens Judge William Erlbaum sentenced the Queens lawmaker to three years of supervised probation, 52 weeks of counseling, 250 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine, but spared the embattled Senator any jail time on Friday, December 4.

“A sentence must not only be fair but must appear to be fair and even-handed,” Elrbaum said as Monserrate’s attorneys and supporters listened intently inside a Queens criminal courtroom. The Senator’s father, Manuel Monserrate, closed his eyes and prayed. “He’s not entitled to better rights or lesser rights.”

The sentence brought to an end a trial in which members of the public, organizations and elected officials tried to sway the judge’s decision and in which supporters of Monserrate accused the Queens District Attorney’s office of having conspired against the Senator. Even the State Senate paid close attention because of the potential shifts in power in the legislative body.

Assistant District Attorney Scott Kessler had asked the court to consider a 60-day imprisonment sentence as well as three years probation, counseling and a $1,000 fine. Kessler argued that Monserrate does not understand the serious nature of the incident, nor had taken responsibility for the conviction.

“I don’t think that I’m here because of political reasons. I’m here because of my own actions,” Monserrate, addressed the court before Elrbaum read the sentence with tears in his eyes. “Whatever caricatures of me I can deal with. I am a public official; I am a big boy. I can deal with that, but she didn’t deserve that. I’m sorry she had to endure that.”

Monserrate’s girlfriend and victim, Karla Giraldo, also addressed the court before sentencing and asked Erlbaum to lift the order of protection that has been in effect against Monserrate since the day of the incident on December 19, 2008. Giraldo said she wanted to continue her life with Monserrate and wanted to marry him.

However, right before Erlbaum sentenced Monserrate, Erlbaum admonished Giraldo “that the time will come when you’ll have to gain some self-respect and stop acting like a slave.” Erlbaum continued the order of protection for a period of five years.

Outside of the courtroom, Monserrate and his legal team breathed a sigh of relief.

“The Senator is standing next to me. He’s still a Senator. The District Attorney wanted jail time and he didn’t get any,” Joseph Tacopina, who led Monserrate’s legal team, told reporters outside of the courtroom. He added that the appeal process would be filed that afternoon and “they were confident that the misdemeanor count would be set aside.”

Tacopina said that they would follow the court’s order that Monserrate attend counseling before Erlbaum would consider any changes to the order of protection. Erlbaum had suggested the PACT program (Promotion of Accountability and Community Ties), run by the Department of Probation.

“I’ve spoken with Ms. Giraldo’s attorney and we will be submitting a joint application,” Tacopina said. “That’s all the court wants to know that there is someone else watching over the situation.”

During the sentencing hearing legal counsel representing the State Senate committee charged with investigating and possibly disciplining Monserrate, asked the court for access to the grand jury testimony.

The committee appeared primarily interested in the key 37 minutes that transpired from the moment Monserrate and Giraldo left his apartment until they arrived at Long Island Jewish Hospital. Erlbaum denied the request unless the State Senate committee could provide a more nuanced argument of what they needed. “I don’t want to punch smoke,” said Erlbaum.

During Monserrate’s assault trial, which lasted roughly three weeks and included around 1,300 pages of testimony, Erlbaum found Monserrate not guilty on two felony assault charges and one misdemeanor assault charge. However, Erlbaum did find Monserrate guilty in the sixth count – a misdemeanor assault for recklessly causing physical injury and substantial pain – as evidenced in the building surveillance video.

“I can’t change the past but I look forward to the future,” Monserrate told reporters. “I made a commitment today in front of this court to work very hard and help bring her [Giraldo] happiness, to restore faith and to ensure that the community is moving in a positive direction.”

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