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Senate panel says Monserrate should be punished

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As expected, a state Senate committee has concluded that state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) is unfit to serve and recommends he either be expelled or censured for his role in the injury of his girlfriend in December 2008.

At a terse news conference in Manhattan, Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan), chairman of the committee, announced the findings but declined to add any personal perspective to the situation.

The 55-page report from the Senate panel was released to the public Wednesday along with all grand jury testimony, video surveillance footage and police reports associated with the criminal case.

“We were concerned that he did not accept any responsibility for his actions and showed a total lack of remorse,” said Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), the only Queens official on the committee, noting that neither Monserrate nor his girlfriend accepted the invitation to appear before the committee. “The seriousness of domestic violence can’t be underestimated and that’s what this was.”

Monserrate has vowed to fight the Senate in court if they expel him. His lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, claims such a move would be unconstitutional, though Schneiderman said he was “absolutely confident” an expulsion vote would be legal.

“The people of this district — and only them — they are my bosses,” Monserrate said at a news conference Thursday afternoon addressing the committee report. He also rejected the idea that the committee’s decision was prompted by any lack of remorse.

“I don’t think this is an issue of remorse or other things,” he said. “I think there are other issues at hand and I think very soon it will be ironed out.”

The five Democrats and four Republicans on the committee all agreed on the recommendation to punish Monserrate but differed on whether to push the expulsion vote. The full Senate will be asked to vote on Monserrate’s future.

“Some members of the select committee believe that it would be logical and efficient for the Senate to consider and vote for the resolution on expulsion first and only consider the second resolution if the resolution to expel fails,” the report said. “However, the select committee failed to reach a consensus on whether or not to include such a specific procedural recommenda­tion.”

Stavisky withheld her personal opinion regarding what course the Senate should take, but said she favored taking the expulsion vote first before any vote on censure.

The report now goes to Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), who called for the formation of the select committee.He was appointed as the de facto head of the Senate Dems as an incentive for Monserrate and Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) to return to the Democratic fold after defecting to the GOP in June, throwing the chamber into a monthlong deadlock.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate has the votes necessary to expel Monserrate where the Democrats control 32 votes and the Republicans 30. Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) has said the Republicans will back the move, but Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate and Monserrate’s expulsion could complicate the legislative process until a replacement was appointed.

Stavisky said Senate Dems were not worried that expelling Monserrate would then force them to treat Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn), accused of attacking a New York Post photographer outside his home, in the same manner, erasing their two-vote majority.

“Each case really has to stand on its own,” she said. “This is not a precedent except this is a case of domestic violence. And the issues involving Sen. Parker — there’s no correlation between the two.”

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

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