2004-07-16 / Front Page

Sirota Sentenced To Anger Management In Baxter Harassment Case

By Howard Schwach

Sirota Sentenced To Anger Management In Baxter Harassment Case

By Howard Schwach

Local attorney Howard Sirota was sentenced on Wednesday to 12 weeks in an anger management program as a result of assault and harassment charges that were brought by activist and Independence Party leader John Baxter more than 2 years ago.

The sentence, handed out by Queens Supreme Court Justice Robert Raciti, follows a May decision by a six-person jury that found Sirota guilty of the lesser charge of harassment and not guilty on the higher assault charge.

Raciti gave Sirota a conditional discharge on the charge contingent on the completion of the anger management course.

The guilty finding on the harassment charge makes the charge a violation rather than a misdemeanor and means that the attorney will not have a criminal record.

Sirota says that he considers it a victory.

"I’m just glad to have all of this behind me," Sirota told The Wave on Wednesday afternoon. "I have no plans, however, in stopping my attempt to improve the community, particularly with a focus on Beach 116 Street."

It was a letter to the editor to The Wave in 2001 that sparked the Sirota Baxter argument that eventually led to the court case.

Baxter, who was then running for a seat in the City Council, wrote a letter arguing that the city was picking on the owners of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels such as the one he owns on Beach 116 Street and that the hotels were necessary for Rockaway.

Sirota answered the following week with a letter of his own, claiming that Baxter’s SRO was one of the impediments to cleaning up the shopping street and offering to pay Baxter $25,000 if his hotel were inspected and no violations were found.

The following Sunday, Baxter led a group of his residents to Sirota’s home in Belle Harbor, threatening him and his family.

Shortly thereafter, Baxter claims, Sirota came up to him on the beach and punched him in the face, causing debilitating injuries.

Sirota says that he "defended himself against a bully."

"The jury almost saw through Baxter and his story," Sirota now says.

Baxter said of Wednesday’s decision, "I thought it was a fair decision all around. This has been a long process and it has come to a just end."

Bruce Cutler, the famed lawyer who defended Sirota thought that the decision was a win for his client.

"There will be no criminal record," he said and the conditional discharge will end after Sirota completes his 12 sessions of anger management."

Cutler wanted to thank Judge Raciti for his treatment.

"I have never been treated as well by a judge as I was on this case," he told The Wave. "I’m glad that this is ended and now we can get to work on the civil suit."

Baxter is suing Sirota for $8 million in damages as a result of the incident.

Cutler would not conjecture on when the civil case would go to trial, but said that he was "optimistic" that they would do well in that case in light of the outcome of the criminal case.

Sirota was also fined $95 in court costs and fines.

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