Prominent Lawyer Arrested For Assault
By Howard Schwach
What began as a series of letters to the editor in The Wave and a challenge from a local lawyer to a local hotel owner to open his hotel to public inspection turned first to a demonstration at the lawyer’s home and, eventually to what police sources are calling "an assault."
Howard Sirota, local lawyer and activist, was arrested on Thursday, December 13 for Assault 3 and Harassment 2 as a result of an altercation he had on that date with John Baxter, the owner of Baxter’s Hotel on Beach 116 Street and a former candidate for City Council on the Independence Party Line.
According to the official police report, Baxter and Sirota had been involved in an ongoing dispute.
That dispute began with a letter on November 3 from then candidate Baxter decrying the treatment of owners of single room occupancy buildings.
On November 10, Sirota wrote back, calling Baxter "the owner…of one of the blighted hotels on Beach 116 Street that has long kept the Rockaways from improving the quality of life in our area."
In the open letter, he issued a challenge to Baxter.
"At my expense, allow me to have a licensed engineering firm inspect Baxter’s Hotel in a one-day inspection during normal business hours," Sirota wrote. "Allow them to provide a report to you, to The Wave, to me, to the NYC Buildings Department and to the New York Fire Department. If the engineers do not find a minimum of two serious violations which, under the law and code, mandate that Baxter’s Hotel is unsafe and unfit for human habitation and must be evacuated, I will pay you $25,000."
Baxter’s response was to demonstrate at Sirota’s Beach 128 Street home the following Sunday.
At that demonstration, witnessed and photographed by Wave staff, Baxter’s tenants challenged and threatened Sirota.
"You will not be able to live in this neighborhood much longer if you keep saying things like that," one woman protestor told Sirota, who stood his ground outside of his beachfront home.
"I should put my foot up your behind right now," another demonstrator yelled into Sirota’s face.
When police arrived on calls from neighbors, the demonstration broke up and Baxter and his tenants walked back to Beach 116 Street.
According to police, however, the dispute did not end there.
According to the official police report, Baxter was on Beach 128 Street when a "verbal dispute" broke out between the two men. Baxter claims that he was walking his dog and ended up near Sirota’s house.
"The defendant (Sirota) did strike the complainant (Baxter) about the face," the report says in official police language.
Baxter was taken to St. John’s Hospital, where he was reportedly released "AMA" – against medical advice.
He appeared on his cable television show only three days later, wearing dark glasses to cover his bruises.
According to police, there was no weapon used in the assault, but some close to Baxter are saying that a dog chain or similar weapon was used.
While a spokesperson for District Attorney Richard Brown refused to comment on the case, except to say that Sirota was released on his own recognizance and that his next court date has been set for January 18 in Part AP2, there is an unsubstantiated report that additional charges may be added by the assistant district attorney after a complete investigation.
Neither Baxter nor Sirota nor Sirota’s lawyers would comment when contacted by The Wave, due to the pending January 18 court date.