Friday, October 16, 2009

What to Do About Monserrate?

As most of our readers now know, Hiram Monserrate, the Senate coup instigator accused of slashing his girlfriend in the face with a broken glass last December, was charged yesterday with a misdemeanor – not for the slashing itself, but for Monserrate’s rough treatment of his girlfriend caught on security video as the couple left for the hospital later that evening.

Had Monserrate been convicted of a felony, he would be forced to surrender his seat in the Senate. But because his crime is a misdemeanor, there is no requirement that he step down, even if he is sentenced to jail as his conviction allows.

Yesterday, Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson issued a statement saying that the “leaders of our conference are discussing the potential for further action in the Senate” and that they will “follow the letter of the law” should they choose to take action. Three Democratic senators issued even stronger statements today calling on Monserrate to resign and saying that they will work to remove him from the Senate if he does not step down voluntarily. Two more of their colleagues joined their call this afternoon.

It turns out that the letter of the law to which Sampson refers is quite clear. Section 3 of the New York State Legislative Law states in full: “[e]ach house has the power to expel any of its members, after the report of a committee to inquire into the charges against him shall have been made.” The law does not specify the structure of the committee or what the report must find.

Malcolm Smith, still the nominal Temporary President of the Senate, has the authority to convene a temporary committee to investigate the claims against Monserrate or to delegate the inquiry to a standing committee – say, the Ethics committee, chaired by Sampson himself. The evidence against Monserrate has already been aired in court and is publicly available. Once this committee submits a report on their findings, the question of Monserrate’s expulsion can be put to the chamber for a vote. If the sentiments of the growing number of Senators who have already spoken our against Monserrate are reflective of the rest of the chamber, it should be a pretty easy one.

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