2004-02-06 / Community

Sirota Assault Trial Postponed Once Again By Prosecutors

By Howard Schwach
Sirota Assault Trial Postponed Once Again By Prosecutors By Howard Schwach

The Assault in the Third Degree case against local lawyer Howard Sirota was postponed by the assistant district attorney handling the case last Wed nesday in Queens Supreme Court.

The case, which alleges that Sirota attacked perennial political candidate John Baxter on the Beach at Beach 128 Street in December 0f 2001, is now scheduled to begin the jury selection process on March 22.

Sirota, a prominent lawyer who was the lead attorney in the Eddie Antar case in which Sirota recovered more than $45 million for stockholders of Antar’s "Crazy Eddie" corporation, says that he is the only person in Queens who has ever been prosecuted for "Assault Three."

"I have to question why I am being prosecuted for an offense that normally brings an ACD [Adjourned in Con templation of Dismissal] in Queens Court," Sirota told The Wave. "I don’t believe that Baxter has any political clout, so it must be a political decision to prosecute me because I am a successful attorney who has been involved in cases of corruption involving the Democratic Party."

Sirota says that he was offered a plea deal that would include him being found guilty of the lesser offense of disorderly conduct. He turned it down.

"I am not going to give myself a criminal record by accepting a plea like that," Sirota said. "Especially since we can prove that Baxter’s statements are untrue."

Sirota’s attorney, Bruce Cutler, who has known Sirota since childhood, told The Wave that he had only defended two misdemeanor cases since he began as a Brooklyn ADA in 1974.

"The district attorney just does not want to move off a violation or a misdemeanor charge," Cutler said. "That is not acceptable in light of the facts and the multi-million law suit that Baxter has brought against Sirota."

"Aren’t there more important things the district attorney and the court could be doing than prosecuting an assault three charge against an exemplary human being," Cutler asked rhetorically.

"We are going to a jury trial and we are going to fight and win this case," Cutler concluded.

Baxter alleged in his complaint against Sirota that the attorney came up to him and hit him with a closed fist as a result of an ongoing dispute.

That dispute began in the pages of The Wave on November 3, 2001, in which Baxter, who was then running for City Council, wrote a letter saying that city officials were being unfair to those who own and who live in local single room occupancy (SRO) buildings. Baxter owns and runs a "residential hotel on the beach block of Beach 116 Street.

Sirota answered Baxter in a letter that was published in The Wave a week later.

In that letter, he called Baxter "the owner of one of the blighted hotels on Beach 116 Street that has kept Rock away from improving the quality of life in our area."

He also challenged Baxter to allow his hotel to be inspected by experts for health and fire code violations.

He offered $25 thousand of his own money to Baxter if the inspection did not turn up at least two violations.

Baxter’s response was to lead a demonstration made up of people who lived in his hotel at Sirota’s home the following Sunday.

More than a dozen of his tenant’s marched to Sirota’s home, chanting and carrying signs.

A Wave editor witnessed the demonstration in which a number of the demonstrators threatened Sirota.

"You will not be able to live in this neighborhood much longer if you keep saying things like that," one demonstrator told him.

"I should put my foot up your behind right now," another yelled in his face.

When police responded to calls from nervous neighbors, Baxter and his demonstrators marched back to Beach 116 Street.

Although there were no eyewitnesses to the altercation that sparked the arrest, a person close to the case said that Baxter was walking his dog next to Sirota’s beachfront home when Sirota told him to walk his dog elsewhere.

The police report says, "The defendant did strike the complainant about the face."

A spokesperson for the Queens District Attorney told The Wave in November of last year, when jury selection was last scheduled to begin, that Sirota came up to Baxter on the beach and said, "You’re gonna drive me out of Rockaway? Well, I’m going to drive you out of Rockaway. Sirota allegedly then "struck [Baxter] in the head several times with a closed fist, causing bruises, lacerations and substantial pain."

Baxter is suing Sirota for $10 million in civil court although, Sirota says, Baxter had only $508 in medical expenses.

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