Sirota Trial To Begin Next Week
The trial of Rockaway resident and noted lawyer Howard Sirota, for his alleged attack on activist and sometime political candidate John Baxter, will begin in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens on Monday, November 17 with jury selection.
Sirota was arrested on December 13, 2001 as a result of an altercation on the beach at Beach 128 Street, in which Baxter alleged that Sirota had come up to him and hit him with a closed fist. At the time, Sirota was arrested on charges of Assault three and Harassment two, charges that do not usually result in a criminal trail, according to local legal experts.
The problems between the two men started with a letter to the editor in The Wave from Baxter, who was then running for City Council. In the letter, entitled, "SRO Controversy Grows," Baxter argued that the city and local activists were wrong to target owners of single room occupancy hotels in Rockaway. Baxter said that city officials and the local community board would "soon be involved in a scandal" because of their actions against SRO’s.
A week later, Sirota, who had been active in community affairs for many years, wrote to The Wave to rebut Baxter’s letter. In a letter entitled, "Beware of Baxter," he called Baxter, "the owner of one of the blighted hotels on Beach 116 Street that has kept Rockaway from improving the quality of life in our area."
He added, "At my expense, allow me to have a licensed engineering firm inspect Baxter’s Hotel in a one day inspection during normal business hours. Allow them to issue a report to me, to you, to the city, to The Wave and to the New York City 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 [Baxter] $25,000."
Baxter’s response was to demonstrate in front of Sirota’s Belle Harbor home the following Sunday.
More than a dozen of Baxter’s tenants marched from the hotel to Sirota’s home, chanting and yelling.
A Wave editor witnessed the demonstration, noting that a number of the demonstrators threatened Sirota, who refused to retreat inside his home.
"You will not be able to live in this neighborhood much longer if you keep saying things like that," one woman told him.
"I should put my foot up your behind right now," another demonstrator yelled into his face.
When police came in response to calls from neighbors, the demonstrators marched back to the hotel.
Sirota told The Wave that Baxter had called him that night and said, "All you have to do is apologoze. I can’t be responsible for what could happen if you do not. I do not have control over what others might do."
Sirota took that as a threat and reported it to police. Baxter admits making the call, but says that he made no threats.
According to police reports, about a month later, Baxter was on the beach nearby Sirota’s beachfront home when an altercation broke out. One report said that the fight started because Baxter was walking his dog on the beach and Sirota told him to take the dog elsewhere.
The police report on the incident says, "The defendant [Sirota] did strike the complainant [Baxter] about the face."
A spokesperson for Queens District Attorney said that Baxter claims that Sirota came up to him on the beach and said, "You’re gonna drive me out of Rockaway Beach, well, I’m gonna drive you out of Rockaway Beach." Baxter said that Sirota then "struck him in the head several times with a closed fist, causing bruises, lacerations and substantial pain."
Jury selection will begin in trial part AP2 on Monday, November 17 at the courthouse. Opening statements are expected on November 19, and then the trial is expected to last a week or two.