ALBANY — Federal prosecutors said they will seek a new trial for Sheldon Silver, the longtime speaker of the New York State Assembly whose 2015 conviction on bribery was vacated Thursday by an appellate court.
The Second Circuit of the Court of Appeals ruled that instructions to the jury did not comport with a subsequent Supreme Court decision in the case against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. As such, the appellate judges ruled, “it is not clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have reached the same conclusion if properly instructed, as is required by law for the verdict to stand.”
“While we are disappointed by the Second Circuit’s decision, we respect it, and look forward to retrying the case,” Joon Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, stated. “Although finding that the Supreme Court’s McDonnell decision issued after Silver’s conviction required a different legal instruction to the jury, the Second Circuit also held that the evidence presented at the trial was sufficient to prove all the crimes charged against Silver, even under the new legal standard. Although this decision puts on hold the justice that New Yorkers got upon Silver’s conviction, we look forward to presenting to another jury the evidence of decades-long corruption by one of the most powerful politicians in New York State history. Although it will be delayed, we do not expect justice to be denied.”
Kim took the reins of the Southern District office from Preet Bharara, who charged Silver — along with other top officials in state government, including Joe Percoco, Alain Kaloyeros and Dean Skelos — as he publicly denounced the “show me the money” culture of Albany.
Bharara was fired in March as part of a mass dismissal of federal prosecutors. His permanent successor has not yet been named.
“The evidence was strong,” Bharara wrote on Twitter. “The Supreme Court changed the law. I expect Sheldon Silver to be retried and re-convicted.”
Bharara had presaged, last October, that the McDonnell decision might “muck up” the initial ruling against Sheldon Silver.
“The thrust of our prosecution was that Sheldon Silver or Dean Skelos engaged in core-function exercise of governmental power, like giving grants or passing legislation … that’s a far cry from having a meeting and engaging in constituent services,” Bharara said during a panel discussion at Albany’s College of Saint Rose. “It may have been the case that there were also meetings that occurred, and McDonnell says that meetings aren’t enough: our argument throughout was about these other things, but in our view that can be mucked up a little bit because of these decisions.”
Silver’s attorneys, in a statement, said: “We are grateful the court saw it our way and reversed the conviction on all counts.”