Sunlight Coming to Sealed Silver Trial Filings

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Sealed court documents that identify at least one new party tied to the corruption case of disgraced ex-New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will become public next week, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
     Silver’s tenure of more two decades came to an abrupt end early last year when federal prosecutors charged him with using ceremonial jobs at law firms to score millions in bribes and kickbacks.
     Weeks before his trial began, prosecutors moved to suppress evidence in an Oct. 21 motion placed under seal.
     U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni justified the decision at the time on the need to insulate the jury from the intense interest the case had generated, as a marquee prosecution in a flurry of indictments against powerful Albany legislators.
     “After the completion of the trial, the court will consider whether the filings and the oral argument record can be redacted and unsealed or should remain under seal,” Caproni said at the time.
     The trial ended with the jury rejecting Silver’s defense of his no-show legal work.
     In his position with the asbestos firm Weitz & Luxenberg, Silver helped secure state research grants for mesothelioma Robert Taub, a Columbia University doctor who referred patients to the law firm in turn. Those referrals lined Silver’s pockets to the tune of $4 million in contingency over the span of a decade.
     Silver gained hundreds of thousands more for providing the firm Goldberg & Iryami a major client: Glenwood Management, a real estate developer that aggressively lobbied his office for favorable legislation in Albany.
     Neither of the parties disputed the basic facts of the case, but Silver denied that these arrangements represented illegal quid pro quo transactions.
     Convicted on Nov. 20, Silver still professes his innocence and has been fighting against the disclosure of the documents in case his appeal wins him a new trial.
     With The New York Times and NBC leading the charge to unseal Silver case records, Silver’s attorney Justin Shur insisted at a hearing today that the “public interest in this matter is minimal” because evidence in the documents was barred from the trial.
     Caproni replied that her rulings on admissibility do not dictate the public’s interest.
     A lawyer for The New York Times told her that the wait for their disclosure already has been longer than usual.
     “Many courts have delayed the unsealing only until the empanelment of the jury,” he said.
     NBC’s attorney Daniel Kummer noted the irony of having the highest levels of New York’s state and federal executive branches debating this records-access issue in private.
     “The only people excluded from this conversation right now are all the people for whom these people govern,” Kummer added.
     Without skipping a beat, Judge Valerie Caproni replied: “Good point.”
     Part of the reason for the secrecy, she said, involved the privacy interests of undisclosed third parties whose lawyers were seated in the courtroom.
     To give those attorneys a chance to argue against the release of the materials, Caproni then ejected the press and public for more than an hour.
     When the public session resumed, Caproni announced that she would release redacted versions of those documents next week, and then she will postpone their release another week to allow time for an appeal.
     “We’re confident that at least one of [the third parties] was never mentioned during trial,” she said.
     Silver’s attorney Joel Cohen, with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, declined to comment on the ruling.
     When asked if he would lodge a Second Circuit appeal, he added: “We don’t know yet.”

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