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Monserrate’s unpaid attorney asks to be appointed by court

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Joseph Tacopina, the longtime attorney for ousted state Sen. Hiram Monserrate, filed papers earlier this month requesting to be Monserrate’s court-appointed lawyer after his scandal-plagued client said he could not pay him, but the U.S. attorney in Manhattan said no.

Tacopina, attorney for the Manhattan law offices of Tacopina, Seigel & Turano, P.C., has long been the defense attorney for Monserrate, who got into legal trouble in December 2008 when he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend Karla Giraldo in an incident that had him kicked out of the Senate after he was found guilty of a misdemeanor. He now faces charges of fraud for allegedly using more than $100,000 in City Council discretionary funds he gave to the Corona-based nonprofit Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment Inc. to fund his 2008 Senate campaign.

Tacopina filed court papers Jan. 7 contending that when Monserrate had been indicted for fraud related to LIBRE in October, he claimed he could pay Tacopina within two months of his arraignment. But in late December, Monserrate said he could not. Tacopina asked the Manhattan court to be appointed as Monserrate’s attorney under the Criminal Justice Act or be relieved of the case.

“Because my firm has already made two appearances, conducted research and reviewed discovery without having received any portion of a retainer, and recognizes that there is a great deal more that needs to be done in this matter ... we now seek relief from the court,” Tacopina said.

Although he is not a member of the Criminal Justice Act panel, composed of attorneys who are usually appointed to cases for defendants who cannot pay, Tacopina asked to be appointed to the case. He said he would be taking a reduced fee under the act’s provisions, had a former relationship with Monserrate and had already been working on 7,500 pages worth of case material. But prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office recommended against Tacopina’s appointment and said his claims were “insufficie­nt.”

“Monserrate is seeking unwarranted special treatment that is not accorded the many other defendants who are represented by CJA counsel,”Assistant U.S. Attorneys BrentWibble and Glen McGorty said.

In a financial affidavit, Monserrate said he was unemployed — the only income he had received in the past 12 months was $26,000 from his pension and $3,000 he made consulting. Under valuable property he listed his $130,000 co-op. He also said he owes $74,000 on a mortgage, $14,000 in credit card debt, $10,000 for his car lease, $8,000 on a student loan and $22,000 to the IRS.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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