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Monserrate sentencing could bring jail time

Friday is a day of reckoning for state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), who faces up to a year in jail when he is sentenced for misdemeanor assault. But jail time is just one possibility for Monserrate, a first-time offender, former Marine and ex-NYPD officer.

Monserrate was convicted in October of recklessly injuring his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, after a December 2008 fight in his Jackson Heights apartment. Monserrate is depicted on security camera footage dragging Giraldo away from a neighbor’s door as she holds on to the staircase and then the doorway of the apartment building in an apparent attempt to resist him.

The misdemeanor conviction could carry a sentence of jail time, probation, a fine or anger management classes, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Monserrate was acquitted of felony assault charges for allegedly slashing Giraldo’s face with a broken glass after discovering another man’s police union card in her purse. Monserrate and Giraldo have both claimed her injuries were accidental, incurred when he stumbled in the dark and spilled water on her, causing her to shoot upright in bed and collide with the glass in his hand.

His attorney, Joseph Tacopina, has said he will appeal the misdemeanor conviction.

In the meantime, Monserrate faces an uphill battle to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses and to build a war chest for his 2010 re-election bid.

The Albany Times Union reported Monserrate has established a legal defense fund based on a legal opinion issued for former state Sen. Efrain Gonzalez that differentiated between what was an improper gift and what would be considered a legitimate contribution to the fund.

The Queens Democratic Party has already endorsed state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) in the 2010 Democratic primary for Monserrate’s seat.

But the senator may not be in office that long. The state Senate is in the process of deciding whether it has the authority to expel Monserrate based on the conviction. Had he been found guilty of a felony, the senator would have been forced to resign. With the lesser charge in place, the Senate’s recourse is unclear. Public hearings are expected soon.

Monserrate’s participation in a June coup in the Senate also jeopardizes his viability in the state Legislature. He followed state Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) over to the Republican fold briefly, overturning the two-vote Democratic majority and sparking a month-long stalemate that alienated many of his colleagues.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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