Unless Convicted, Monserrate Can Serve

ALBANY—A indictment–no matter how serious–does not create any legal barrier for a public official to serve in the state legislature.

So unless Hiram Monserrate, a New York City councilman and state senator-elect (also: retired cop), is convicted of a felony, he can join the State Senate. Monserrate was arrested this morning in connection with assaulting a woman. In addition to the law, he is subject to discipline by the Legislative Ethics Commission–a body that is controlled by legislators and is often derided as lacking punch.

"We have to see how this plays out," said Blair Horner, legislative director for NYPIRG and a long-time good government advocate. "It's a horrible allegation, but until proven true, like everyone else, he's subject to a presumption of innocence and his public life."

After all, Monserrate would hardly be the only lawmaker in Albany accused (or even convicted of) a crime.

But if he can serve, he can still cast a vote for State Senator Malcolm Smith, who is counting on Monserrate's support as he tries to become his chamber's majority leader.

UPDATE: Blair Horner points out that the Legislative Ethics Commission doesn’t have jurisdiction because Monserrate has not yet been sworn into the state senate.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she referred the matter to the Standards and Ethics Committee, and when asked by reporters earlier, said, “I have heard of the allegations against Councilman Monserrate. You can imagine they are deeply, deeply troubling allegations. Of course, they’re allegations. Councilmember Monserrate, just like any individual in the city or anywhere else, is innocent until proven guilty, and I’m glad that the NYPD is taking up these charges and is going to pursue them quickly and thoroughly.”

“That said, the charges which relate to domestic violence speak to the problem of domestic violence in our city. And domestic violence is really a cancer in our city and it is just outrageous and unacceptable. When that crime is perpetrated the individual who commits it needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law regardless of any position that individual might hold.”

Unless Convicted, Monserrate Can Serve