Gay Partner Seeks Spousal Privilege in New York Case
Two months after a Long Island schools superintendent implicated his longtime companion in an $11.2-million embezzlement scheme, the partner says the superintendent would be violating “solemn” vows they made during a commitment ceremony in the Caribbean if he testified against him.
The companion, Stephen Signorelli, 60, who has pleaded not guilty to a grand larceny charge in the Roslyn, N.Y., case, said in court papers that a Nassau County judge should treat them like spouses, and bar former Supt. Frank Tassone from testifying if Signorelli’s case went to trial.
“Mr. Tassone and I have been loving partners for 33 years,” Signorelli said in an affidavit, adding that in February 2001, the two men “had a solemn religious ceremony at sea to memorialize our relationship and love for one another.”
In April 2002, the two men, who live together on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, registered with New York City as domestic partners.
In some instances, spouses can legally be prevented from testifying against each other. However, New York state’s “marital privilege” law, as written, “does not extend to homosexuals in a ‘spousal relationship.’ ”
But in a motion argued Wednesday before Nassau County Judge Alan Honorof, Signorelli’s attorney said that the court couldn’t ignore how long the two men had lived together. He noted in court papers that Signorelli and Tassone were beneficiaries of each other’s wills, could be seen in each other’s family photographs and had “shared every single Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays together.”
The court documents also include a “solemnization” certificate from the Caribbean ceremony, which was signed by the Rev. Brian A. Johnson, and a New York City certificate of domestic partnership.
“It’s our position that the statute should be read gender-neutral,” said Signorelli’s attorney, Kenneth Weinstein of Garden City, N.Y. “If a heterosexual couple can assert marital privilege, then a homosexual couple should be able to do the same.”
Tassone has pleaded guilty to stealing at least $1 million from the Roslyn school district from 1996 to 2002. As part of his deal for a reduced sentence of four to 12 years, Tassone provided evidence against Signorelli, who is charged with stealing at least $219,000 by submitting phony invoices to the district for his word-processing company. Tassone would also be required to testify if Signorelli’s case, which is pending, goes to trial.
“It’s a matter of survival of the fittest, and making the right choice in cooperating and coming clean and being truthful in an effort to minimize the sentence,” said Tassone’s attorney, Ed Jenks of Garden City.
Jenks confirmed the commitment ceremony and the domestic partnership registration but predicted it would have no impact on the case.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Peter Mancuso declined to comment, except to say that “we are in the process of reviewing the motion and formulating our response.”
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