Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ex-N.Y. Senator Loses Bid to Block Special Election

(CN) - Former New York Sen. Hiram Monserrate lost his bid in Manhattan Federal Court to block a special election being held next month for his seat, after his fellow senators expelled him for assaulting his girlfriend.

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said no legislator has ever contested his expulsion in New York, and ruled that "a fundamental principle of our representative democracy is, in [Alexander] Hamilton's words, 'that the people should choose whom they please to govern them.'"

Monserrate and several voters from his Queens district filed an action to stop the New York State Senate from holding the special election in March, saying it violated his civil rights.

"In an ironic twist, his attorneys characterize the Senate's action as an 'unlawful coup' and argue that voters in the 13th Senatorial District have been disenfranchised by his removal," Judge Pauley wrote, taking a shot at Monserrate's role in the Senate coup last year that paralyzed Albany.

The judge agreed with Gov. David Paterson's order to hold an election for Monserrate's seat, saying the federal court "has no legal basis to preliminarily enjoin the decision of the Senate."

The first-time senator was less than two months into his term when he was charged with multiple crimes in connection with a highly publicized incident of domestic violence in which he allegedly slashed the face of his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, with a shard of glass.

"During the dispute, Giraldo sustained serious facial lacerations from a broken drinking glass," the ruling states.

Monserrate was indicted on three felony and three misdemeanor assault charges, and was convicted of misdemeanor reckless assault, specifically, that the former Marine and NYPD officer injured his girlfriend "by forcibly dragging her by her arm," Queens County Judge William Erlbaum ruled.

The former senator was sentenced to three years probation, 250 hours of community service, a $1,000 fine and one year of domestic abuse counseling.

A select committee of nine senators investigating the incident chose to impose severe sanctions on Monserrate, who declined to testify or offer evidence in his defense. His girlfriend also refused to participate in the investigation, the ruling states.

The Senate gave Monserrate the boot by a vote of 53-8, with one senator not present. All eight votes supporting the Queens resident came from his fellow New York City Democrats.

In response to the ex-senator's complaint, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said "the versions of events presented by Monserrate and his girlfriend at his criminal trial and elsewhere were not credible and were mutually inconsistent."

Cuomo represented the state Senate in the dispute.

"In bringing this action, plaintiffs urge this court to do what no other judicial body has done since the founding of this nation - namely, rule that a state Legislature is powerless to protect itself from persons manifestly unfit to participate in the law making process," Cuomo wrote.

The state's top cop argued that, under Monserrate's theory, "the Senate thus could not expel a member who is demonstrably corrupt, insane or violent. Such a position is not only absurd, but dangerous."

Judge Pauley agreed, adding that the ruling will have only a "slight" effect on voters.

"The seat in the 13th Senatorial District will only be vacant for a few weeks," the judge wrote. "The Governor promptly called the Special Election, and the electoral process is underway. Moreover, the burden here is no greater than that imposed by occasional vacancies due to death or resignation."

The judge also rejected Monserrate's argument that his expulsion was retaliation for his role in the 2009 senate coup, saying "nothing supports" that claim.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.