Sheldon Silver Retrial Put on Ice Pending High Court Appeal

In this May 3, 2016, file photo, former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is surrounded by media as he leaves the court in New York where he was sentenced to 12 years in prison on corruption charges. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

MANHATTAN (CN) — When a jury in his former legislative district convicted him two years ago, ex-New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver appeared fated to spend his twilight years inside a federal prison, but the politician now has washed his 12-year sentence and pressed pause on his retrial pending another appeal.

While the Second Circuit, which overturned Silver’s convictions late last month, did not explain why its three-judge panel unanimously granted Silver another reprieve on Thursday, the politician’s attorneys Steven Molo, from MoloLamken, and Joel Cohen, from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, interpreted the ruling as a sign about the strength of their appeal.

“The court recognized the significance of the issues we will be asking the Supreme Court to review,” the attorneys said. “It halted the trial court proceedings to allow us to do that.”

Silver, 73, is trying to resuscitate the legacy of his more than 20-year political career with an attempted coup de grace on a corruption indictment that sank it in 2015.

The facts of Silver’s case are largely undisputed: The Lower Manhattan Democrat capitalized on his connections in Albany through ceremonial positions with two law firms.

For Weitz & Luxenberg, a New York-based firm specializing in asbestos litigation, Silver referred mesothelioma patients sent his way via a physician at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital who relied on state grants for his research.

Prosecutors said that Silver also helped the law firm Goldberg & Iryami, a firm owned by his former staffer Jay Arthur Goldberg, find clients in two developers — Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group — that sought favorable legislation from Albany.

Silver reaped $5 million from both referrals, a windfall that prosecutors labeled as bribes.

In late 2015, a New York-based federal jury agreed, but that was before the Supreme Court effectively legalized selling political access in the case of disgraced ex-Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.

On July 13, the Second Circuit cited the McDonnell precedent in granting a new trial with instructions to the jury that Silver had to have promised his donors a more tangible quid pro quo than access to convict him of corruption.

But Silver is not settling for loosened federal anti-bribery laws.

In a 22-page brief, Silver’s attorneys gunned after relaxing the statutes implicated in their client’s other counts of conviction, including extortion, money laundering, and honest-services fraud.

“At a minimum, proceeding with a retrial while the Supreme Court weighs the substantial legal issues at stake would waste the district court’s time with counts that may be rendered moot by the court’s decision,” the July 27 brief said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tatiani Martins noted that Silver has a tough road to hoe before the high court.

The Supreme Court has granted none of the last 10 petitions that it has received from criminal defendants whose convictions have been overturned.

“The Supreme Court rarely grants certiorari on interlocutory appeals, because the impending trial could moot the issues (with an acquittal) or sharpen them for presentation later,” she wrote in a July 28 brief for the government. “Silver’s transparent attempt to thwart the public interest in the speedy re-trial of his crimes should be denied so that trial can proceed promptly.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York emphasized that it would not let Thursday’s setback deter them.

“This office still plans to retry this case as soon as possible,” its spokesman Nick Biase said.

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