State Sen. Monserrate Waives Jury for Trial in Alleged Assault Case

Over the weekend, I wrote about the trial New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate, accusing of assaulting his girlfriend with broken glass. Jury selection was to begin today. Monserrate has turned down a misdemeanor plea, and he and his girlfriend maintain the incident was an accident. (Which provoked some strong responses in the comments section.) Background on the case is here.

This morning, Monserrate's attorney waived the jury and trial will begin next week to the Court.

Joe Tacopina, Monserrate's attorney (disclosure: he's also a good friend) says he believes the judge can be fair. The NY Times reports Joe said " a jury consultant and polls had convinced the defense that Mr. Monserrate could not get a fair trial before a jury anywhere in the state." He also, according to the Daily News, noted the jury would have had to walk past a gathering of domestic violence protesters every day. Today, one held a sign with a rat featuring Monserrate's head on top. After court, Joe said:[More...]

"It's a perfect storm. You have a politician, and then you have accusations of domestic violence, and we wanted to avoid jurors who won't hear the evidence and would not be able to see past the accusations," Tacopina said.

But what about the Judge presiding over the case, William Erilbaum, who has not given favorable signals to Monserrate so far:

Erlbaum recently weighed in on a videotape taken in the lobby of Monserrate's building that prosecutors say shows Monserrate "viciously and violently" yanking girlfriend Karla Giraldo, 29. Erlbaum said the tape, which has not been publicly aired, "causes the blood to boil." Monserrate lawyer Joseph Tacopina said he's confident Erlbaum will be able to decide the case fairly.

Also, according to Joe,

We're very confident on the facts and the law and I don't want any outside influences like biases, sympathy, predetermined beliefs, protesters, things of that nature interfering," Tacopina said.

... "I understand why people protest, but I have no tolerance for people who pretend to know the facts of a case when they know nothing about the case," Tacopina said.

He added:

We're that comfortable with the facts in this case. We're that comfortable with the law in this case. That we don't need anything but an impartial fact finder, and surely we have one today.

I wrote over the weekend that lawyers don't often turn down misdemeanors when faced with violent crimes, it's too risky. Nor do they often waive juries unless the details the jury will hear are so ugly they are likely to be swayed by them, the atmosphere surrounding the trial has been poisoned, or the defense is a very legal and technical one.

Given that Monserrate is facing three counts of felony assault and three counts of misdemeanor assault, what this tells me (and admittedly I have no personal knowledge of the case) is Monserrate has some really strong evidence impeaching the state's witnesses, some medical expert testimony of his own and there's something very fishy about the video. Maybe he has an expert who will testify it's been doctored. Otherwise, I think Monserrate would have taken the misdemeanor, which would have allowed him to keep his Senate seat and avoid serious jail time.

Now, Monserrate's going for broke, At least he picked the right lawyer for the job.

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    I doubt Monserrate could have been relected (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by tigercourse on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 05:25:38 PM EST
    if he plead guilty to the misdemeanor. Admitting that you slashed your girlfriend doesn't do mych for election chances.

    I Don't Care Whether He's Guilty (none / 0) (#12)
    by msaroff on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 10:26:52 PM EST
    He shouldn't be reelected.

    Has nothing to do with the charges, and everything to do with his teaming up with Republicans.


    i'm still at a loss (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by cpinva on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 08:45:06 PM EST
    as to how you "accidentally" slash someone on the face, with broken glass. it's possible, and i'm certainly not ruling it out, but you have to admit, it sounds.................odd.

    can't wait to see the tv movie version!

    I'm really curious about the video (none / 0) (#1)
    by nycstray on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 04:34:18 PM EST
    First, wouldn't there be time stamps? Second, wouldn't they have needed footage of him being aggressive towards her to include (so how does one explain that?) and third, is the suggestion that a cop could have altered it?

    The fact they don't think Monserrate could get a fair jury in the state is interesting. I remember the news when the alleged attack on his GF happened, but I didn't pay too close attention. Also, there was plenty of other news 'distractions' at the time. If he hadn't pulled that BS with the Senate, he prob could have gotten a fair jury.

    Tehre is no way he could have gotten a fair jury (none / 0) (#2)
    by scribe on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 04:59:03 PM EST
    As I noted in a comment yesterday, Monserrate was one of the three Democratic Senators who switched sides in the NY State senate earlier this summer, shifting control to the  Republicans.  As a consequence, the taboids in NYC, having nothing better to campaign on (in the way tabloids campaign), decided that Monserrate and the other two senators would become the butt, object and crux of their campaign to vilify all of the mess that is Albany.

    Thus, you got at least one article a day - often more - plus frequent editorials, all vilifying these three senators and, breathlessly, reporting every twist, turn and suspicion (real or not) about them and on-going (or supposed) investigations.  And the terms they used to describe these senators were, shall we say, worse than the terms that SC Repug used about Obama.

    I'm kinda surprised it was only a rat's head on a stick - given the level of obliquy generated I would have imagined someone would have taken the time to make a papier-mache effigy of Monserrate.  And put it on a stick.

    And, given the statewide impact of that switch of senate control (and/or, in the more rural parts, anti-browner-people bias), it was correct to conclude there was no jury anywhere in NY State which could give a fair trial.

    Waiving the jury was a smart move - it's the same move defense lawyers do for cops when they shoot some guy 41 times for pulling a wallet when cornered on a dark stoop.


    That's why I said if he hadn't pulled (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by nycstray on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 06:29:33 PM EST
    that stunt. That's when I really started paying attention to him and his buddies. I was actually following a bill* that I was hoping would pass (saving us independent contractors over 3 grand a year in taxes) when they essentially shut down the Senate. My description of the dude is none too kind, and it most certainly has everything to do with the State Sen.

    *Bill passed when they finally got back to work {happy dance!}


    I really do not think (none / 0) (#5)
    by Steve M on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 06:35:38 PM EST
    that it is so impossible to find a jury of 12 people somewhere in New York State who simply don't care that much about politics.  Not everyone loses sleep fretting over the mess in Albany and who bears responsibility for it.

    I really do not think the good people of, say, Utica, are unanimous in their outrage towards the individuals who engineered the switch in Senate control.  I wouldn't be surprised if you could find plenty of qualified jurors who never even heard about the incident.


    Never heard about the Sen mess?! (none / 0) (#6)
    by nycstray on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 07:32:37 PM EST
    I dunno, it was pretty messy!!

    Now finding folks outside of NYC who didn't know/care about this current case, would have been/could be possible, if well, he hadn't been one of the major players in the mess.


    You'd likely be surprised, and certainly (none / 0) (#7)
    by scribe on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 07:44:00 PM EST
    disabused of that notion, once you started trying to select a jury.  

    These three senators tied the whole state of New York in knots, for no good reason I could ever divine.  And there would be no way the jurors could be insulated from knowing that he was a senator.  

    Also note that I qualified my prior comment by noting that, in the more out-of-the way rural places, he'd probably come up - hard - against anti-browner-people sentiment, which is pretty prevalent in those areas.  

    In a lot of the more rural counties way upstate, the only nonwhite people they see are prisoners and prisoners' families coming to visit them.  A lot of those counties would dry up and blow away if it weren't for the prison-industrial complex.

    You gonna let a prison guard, or his family, on your jury?


    I'm not sure about upstate (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by nycstray on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 08:04:34 PM EST
    but some of the work they were supposed to be doing had impact on us here in the city. Budget, schools etc. I can't imagine we were the only ones affected. And on top of throwing the Sen to the Repubs and stopping all work, there was a lot of childish behavior going on. Freakin' embarrassing, imo.

    I remember when they broke with the news. It was totally out of the blue for me. I was like, WTF?! And I know I wasn't alone . . .


    Well (none / 0) (#9)
    by Steve M on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 08:11:15 PM EST
    I can't really endorse the sentiment that it is impossible for a nonwhite person to get a fair trial in every rural county in NYS.  That strikes me as a serious overstatement.

    Even if the non-white person helped (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by nycstray on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 08:23:14 PM EST
    throw the State Sen and p*ss off a majority of the state? Once you get past the racists etc, you've still got a majority of ticked of potential jurors. And the press aired laundry on them because of the stunt. If you want an impartial jury, you should prob make better decisions  ;) He prob could have gotten by those that aren't non-white friendly if he had kept a lower and more respectable profile . . .