The state Senate spent $376,464 for outside criminal legal services in order to boot former East Elmhurst-based Sen. Hiram Monserrate from its chambers, which has earned the ire of state Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn).
“This is another outlandish expenditure that the taxpayer has to pay for,” Golden said.
Yet Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Senate, said getting outside legal help was necessary to avoid a conflict of interest.
“The committee voted to retain criminal law experts because there was an inherent conflict in having Senate lawyers who reported to Monserrate advise the committee on matters that would determine his future in the Senate,” Shafran said.
Monserrate, who had originally been a city councilman, won a seat in the Senate on Nov. 4, 2008. A month later, on Dec. 19, 2008, he assaulted his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, in an incident which left her face slashed open with glass and her being taken to the hospital. While Monserrate and Giraldo later claimed her injury was an accident, a security video showed Monserrate pulling Giraldo through the hallway of his apartment complex by her hair. Monserrate was convicted of misdemeanor assault in a non-jury trial in October 2009.
Shortly after his conviction, a bipartisan committee in the state Senate led by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, then a senator from Manhattan, convened in October to investigate Monserrate. In February, the committee voted to expel him on the grounds that his conduct after the arrest was not up to the standards of the Senate and recommended he either be censured or ousted. The Senate voted 53-8 in favor of immediate expulsion.
The Senate hired outside help from the Manhattan-based firm Kaye Scholer and then-partner Dan Alonso, who now works for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. The work was done pro bono, but the firm’s associates were paid $376,464 for their time.
“Legislative staffers employed by the Senate don’t have a criminal legal expertise, which is why a law firm with criminal legal expertise was hired to analyze the underlying circumstances of Monserrate’s conviction,” Shafran said.
Nevertheless, Golden called the money spent a waste.
“It’s money I think could have better spent,” he said.
Shafran said the money was paid out of non-personnel costs, which came in under budget for fiscal year 2009-2010.
The Senate employs 100 lawyers who work for the Senate’s numerous committees based on their specialty, but none of these lawyers has criminal expertise, observers said. Many of those lawyers were also still working for committees, some of which Monserrate would have been serving on or working with, which would have created a conflict of interest, they said.
“Something this important, this historic, you want to get it right,” Shafran said. “Monserrate was ultimately expelled, as he deserves to be.”
Golden said the facts of the case should have left Monserrate’s expulsion self-evident.
“There was very little left to the imagination after he assaulted that poor woman,” Golden said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.
©2011 Community News Group
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