Hiram Monserrate tried to turn back the clock on Thursday.
The recently ousted pol filed a federal suit against state lawmakers seeking to reverse his expulsion from the New York State Senate, claiming the vote was unconstitutional. Famed civil rights lawyers Norman Siegel and Steve Hyman alleged that legislators had overstepped their authority in removing Monserrate, violating both his and his constituents’ rights. The controversial Corona lawmaker’s attorneys claimed that state law does not grant the legislature powers to to purge its members, specifically citing the repeal of such procedures during an 1821 constitutional convention.
“There’s no authority currently in the New York State constitution that gives them the right to do what they did to Hiram Monserrate. What they should do at a minimum is draft and propose a constitutional amendment if that’s what they want to do. In the absence of that, I think — constitutionally — they’re vulnerable to this type of challenge,” Siegel said. “He should not be removed by fellow legislators. That’s for the voters in Queens to decide.”
The attorneys further alleged that the resolution to remove Monserrate — drafted by a Senate committee following months of hearings — had failed to provide due process for the expelled pol by prohibiting him from examining and challenging evidence brought against him. Six of Monserrate’s constituents also joined the suit, claiming their voting rights had been violated.
The state Senate voted 53 to 8 to remove Monserrate on Tuesday evening. The embattled pol was convicted of misdemeanor assault last year for dragging his injured girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, down a stairwell after an incident in his apartment. Monserrate was charged with various counts of assault after being accused of slashing Giraldo across the face during a Dec. 19 dispute at his Jackson Heights home. The original complaint alleged that he struck Giraldo after breaking a glass in his hand, causing a laceration around her left eye that required 20 stitches to close. But the judge dismissed accusations that Monserrate had cut Giraldo intentionally — felony charges which would have resulted in his immediate expulsion from the legislature.
All of Queens’ senators — excluding Monserrate himself — approved the removal. State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) — who also sat on the Senate committee that investigated the assault — defended her decision on Wednesday, claiming his conviction had damaged the legislature’s reputation.
“I feel that senators must be held to a higher standard, and that what may not cost a person his job in the private sector should be punished more severely in the public sphere. I feel Sen. Monserrate, in committing and being convicted of an act of domestic violence, violated the public's trust and damaged the integrity of the Senate,” Stavisky said. “I voted for his expulsion from the Senate, as I have said in the past I would do. I could not in good conscience serve in the Senate alongside a man who treats women in such a deplorable manner.”
But Monserrate has claimed that Tuesday’s vote was motivated by politics, not morals. The pol sparked a devastating power struggle last summer when he joined state Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) and Senate Republicans in an unprecedented coup that paralyzed Albany for weeks. Monserrate rejoined Democrats just days later, leaving the Senate evenly divided and both parties deeply suspicious of the Corona lawmaker.
Gov. David Paterson set a special election to replace Monserrate for March 16. A federal judge will decide next Thursday whether to block the election and reinstate the embattled pol.