NOW Pressures Judge To Convict, Before Trial

Queens State Senator Hiram Monserrate has only two claims to fame.  First, he was one of the defecting Democrats who was responsible for shutting down the New York State Senate during the month of lunacy.  Second, only a month after the then-City Councilman was elected to the Senate, he slashed his girlfriend’s face.  Need I mention he was a New York City cop for 12 years before deciding to become a public servant?

Having decided that he would do better with Justice William Erlbaum than 12 peers, the latter being unlikely to ignore the videotape of him punching, grabbing and slashing Karla Giraldo to the tune of 20 stitches in his accident defense, Monserrate decided to go non-jury.  He’s represented by my buddy Joe Tacopina, who has had great success defending cops.  Of course, Joe Tac’s best work is before a jury, where his charm and good looks do him no harm.

Inexplicably, this was too much for the National Association of Women to take.  Given Monserrate’s elevated profile from his Albany debacle, combined with his unkind treatment of his girlfriend Karla, whose story of assault later changed to an accident as Monserrate was bringing her a glass of water, he became the latest poster boy for misogynistic politician.  So a plan was hatched.

The National Organization for Women in New York State is calling on the judge trying State Senator Hiram Monserrate on domestic violence charges to give him “the maximum sentence allowable by law.”

There’s only one problem.  Monserrate hasn’t been convicted yet.  Details.  But NOW is nothing if not well organized when it comes to applying pressure.

“Call or write the Honorable William M. Erlbaum,” the women’s organization told supporters in e-mail messages this week. “Send a message that violence against women must be stopped and perpetrators must be brought to justice.”

It included a template for sending a message to Justice Erlbaum that concluded: “I implore you to do the right thing by punishing Senator Monserrate, giving him the maximum sentence allowable by law. By doing so, you will be sending a very important message and that is that violence against women is a serious crime.”

Not surprising, Tac doesn’t think this is a very good plan as he prepared for trial.

“They’re trying to improperly persuade the fact finder,” Mr. Tacopina said in an interview. “It’s akin to writing a letter to a juror.”

Nuh uh, says NOW.

Marcia Pappas, the president of the women’s organization in New York State, acknowledged the campaign to influence Justice Erlbaum, saying in an interview, “We’re imploring him to do the right thing.”

She said the campaign was nothing unusual for what she called “an activist organization” that has often written to family court judges in child custody cases.

“I’m sure the judge knows what he needs to do, so his position is not compromised,” Ms. Pappas said.
Of course, if the judge already knows what to do, then why bother him with letters?  What makes this scenario interesting is that the judge is the factfinder in a non-jury trial, yet fair game to public pressure.  And Pappas’ statement notwithstanding, obviously the purpose of the campaign is to let the judge know that they will hang him out to dry if he makes the wrong call.  At least they will try.

Tacopina is correct in comparing this push to punish to improperly reaching out to a juror in one sense, but a judge isn’t a juror, and there is no law I can think of prohibiting NOW from trying to influence his decision.  On the other hand, Justice Erlbaum isn’t likely to shudder in fear at the thought of a bunch of letters from NOW members demanding the maximum punishment.  It’s likely that he will remember the sequence of events, first guilt and only afterward punishment, in any event.

It would not surprise me if this NOW campaign backfires bigtime.  Curiously, Monserrate has a tough case against him, with videotape of the assault to confront and only his girlfriend’s changed testimony to back up his story.  Given that it’s fairly clear that her story changed to exculpate him, coupled with the tape, getting the judge to bite won’t be easy.

But there’s a tendency to get both annoyed at such overt political efforts to influence the outcome, and to bend the opposite way in order to avoid the impression that such efforts work (and thereby provide an incentive to the next group inclined to exert pressure) that may give Monserrate an edge where before he had none.  While NOW may be impressed with its power and influence, it’s unlikely that Justice Erlbaum will share its self-image.

Ultimately, I suspect that the judge will do the right thing, meaning that he’ll try the case fairly and this background noise will fade away.  But it’s amazing how this misbegotten scheme is the first, and possibly only, thing that has made Monserrate look even a little bit sympathetic.  Before he was a pompous, arrogant State Senator who beat up and slashed his girlfriend.  Now he’s the lone man fighting the hordes of NOW who are trying to improperly influence justice and deny him a fair trial. 

If Monserrate has any gentility in him at all, he’ll send Pappas a thank you note. It would be the right thing to do.

6 comments on “NOW Pressures Judge To Convict, Before Trial

  1. NTK

    Why does NY need such an active NOW group anyway? I thought the women in New York were already free. If they want to help oppressed women they should try some remote areas of the more southern states. There are a lot of women that won’t even make it out of town.

  2. blind guy

    Putting aside what should happen in this case, Erlbaum could convict of a misd. thereby allowing Hiram M. to stay in senate while still suffering a conviction.

  3. John R.

    Well, the underlying reality here is that cops-cum-criminal-defendants frequently opt for bench trials and most often are acquitted when they do it, because that in and of itself ratchets up the political pressure on the judge.

    Because cops are politically powerful. Very powerful. And I would assume that goes double for ex-cops who are state senators.

    So I can’t really blame NOW for trying, however feebly, to provide some counter pressure for the judge to think about. Of course the effort is gauche, being so much more “overt” and all, but personally I am more concerned with the covert, unacknowledged, more common and more insidious pressure coming from the other side.

  4. Windypundit

    I assume that the real target of NOW’s actions is not the judge but its own membership. They want to encourage the members to feel involved. I’ll bet each call to action also includes a request for a contribution.

    It’s kind of like the way a big Supreme Court case will draw 100 amicus briefs, 95 of which are sent so the submitter can tell its members that “We’re fight this! Send us money!”

  5. Tracy

    What is it about NOW that scares so many people? They are activists who bring as much pressure to court matters as civil rights activites, MADD and family members of victims who sit in on courtroom proceedings. Its what activites do and NOW’s position certaintly does not make Monserrate any more of a sympathetic fugure than your typical wife beater. Frankly, with all the women turning up dead or missing by the hands of their husbands and boyfriends, if convicted, I’m all for making this guy a poster boy.

  6. queensresident

    First of all Domestic Violence is wrong. Who among us can say that we have never had heated arguments with our loved one, when someone loses their temper and regrets it later. Domestic Violence is a pattern of abuse both physical and mental intended to control the victim. This case seems more like a very terrible incident in two people’s lives.

    Monserrate does not have any prior arrests for domestic violence, nor does he have a history of domestic violence. Both Monserrate and Giraldo have wanted to put this case behind them. They have repeatedly requested that the order of protection be lifted so they can be together again. The judge denied this. What should have happened in this case is that the DA should reviewed all the evidence including the victims testimony to the grand jury, they should have interviewed Giraldo’s friends, co-workers, and family to see if there was a history of violence, this would have determined if their existed a history of abuse and violence. Someone would have said something to the DA.

    Somewhere along the line we need to believe Giraldo when she repeatedly states it was an accident. If the alleged victim is saying that under oath, then that is pretty powerful evidence. We need to refocus the case to what it really was; an unfortunate incident in a couple’s lives, not a domestic abuse situation.

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