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Hiram Monserrate gets new attorney

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A Manhattan federal judge refused to designate former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate’s Manhattan lawyer as his court-appointed attorney Friday and a new lawyer was chosen.

Monserrate, who is facing fraud charges, had been using Joseph Tacopina of Tacopina, Seigel & Turano for years but recently claimed he was unable to pay Tacopina’s fees.

The decision was made by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, her clerk said.

Monserrate, an East Elmhurst-based politician, has long been plagued by scandal. He was a city councilman and became senator in 2008, a position he held until he was thrown out by his colleagues in 2010 after being convicted of a misdemeanor charge for assaulting his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo. He most recently came under fire for allegations he used more than $100,000 in Council discretionary funds he allocated to the Corona-based nonprofit Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment Inc. to fund his 2008 Senate campaign. Monserrate was indicted on these charges in October by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Tacopina, a Manhattan lawyer, had been Monserrate’s defense attorney for years and Monserrate had hired him for the fraud indictment, but on Jan. 7 Tacopina filed court papers asking to be either appointed as Monserrate’s public attorney or relieved of the case. In the papers, Tacopina said Monserrate initially claimed he would be able to pay Tacopina within two months of his arraignment, but in late December said he could not.

Tacopina said he should be appointed as his public defender because he had a former working relationship with Monserrate and had worked on 7,500 pages worth of case material, but attorneys in the U.S. attorney’s office responded in court papers filed Jan. 10 that Tacopina’s claims were insufficient and recommended against the appointment.

The New York Post reported McMahon said Tacopina’s previous relationship with Monserrate was “absolutely irrelevant” and since he could not afford to pay for legal representation, he could not choose his lawyer.

Manhattan attorney James Neuman confirmed he was appointed to Monserrate’s defense, but would not comment further.

Tacopina could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday night.

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

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