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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sheldon Silver Swipes at Pretrial Evidence Dump

MANHATTAN (CN) - New York State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver's lawyer told a federal judge at a hearing Wednesday that prosecutors "gamed" the defense with the late production of evidence ahead of the Nov. 2 trial.

"If this is such a important case, you would think that they would want it to be fair," attorney Steven Molo told the judge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen fired back: "The government is not gaming anything."

Silver's defense has been a strong offense ever since prosecutors charged him in January with accepting more than $6 million in bribes and kickbacks from law firms and real estate developers.

Between Silver's charging and indictment, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara spoke before law associations and television cameras about how the case represented his efforts to root out the culture of corruption in Albany.

Molo immediately cried foul, telling U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni that Bharara's media blitz could compromise Silver's right to a fair trial.

The bid almost worked when Caproni said that Molo made a "non-frivolous" argument of pretrial prejudice, but she allowed the case to move ahead and let prosecutors to add a charge of money laundering.

Since that time, Caproni appears to have grown wary of accusations of prosecutorial misconduct by Silver's attorneys.

At Wednesday's 45-minute hearing, Molo requested that the judge let him root out juror bias by having the prospects fill out a questionnaire before being grilled by the lawyers during voir dire. Prosecutors have called this unnecessary, arguing that pretrial publicity has died down since the original indictment.

Scoffing at this idea, Molo held up an issue of Crain's New York Business with a cover story asking "Can Preet Be Beat?" in reference to Bharara's string of anticorruption prosecutions. Molo said that he found more than 1,000 articles on the case in general, adding that a questionnaire could help solve a problem that he intimated the "government created itself."

Caproni, a tough and plain-spoken Georgia native, cut him off after that statement to warn that "beating up on" the prosecutors would not help his case.

Referring to her slap on the prosecution's wrist months ago, she said, "What was said back then, was said."

But she added that the news cycle has since moved on from the events surrounding Silver's indictment.

"We've got Donald Trump," she said. "We've got 18 candidates running for president. We've had Ebola."

This argument ended with the parties agreeing to the principle of a trimmed-down questionnaire, but without any resolution over whether it should be sent to the prospective jurors before they arrive in court.

Molo's accusation that prosecutors had "gamed" pretrial preparations came later, referring to what he described as the late production of 117,000 documents.

Roughly 10,000 of this batch related to Columbia University doctor Robert Taub, a key witness in the case.

Prosecutors believe Taub may prove key to proving their claims that Silver collected $5.3 million from the firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which specializes in asbestos-related cases.

Silver, who was affiliated with the firm, directed state funds to Taub who then referred his mesothelioma patients to the firm, prosecutors say.

Molo said that he still needs evidence and witness lists from the government.

Cracking a joke about the upcoming Columbus Day weekend, Judge Caproni urged prosecutors to provide the defense attorney with enough paperwork to keep him occupied over the holiday.

"I am concerned that he is underemployed this weekend, and it's a long weekend," she quipped.

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