Corruption Case Paused as Ex-New York Speaker Appeals to Supreme Court
By John Riley
A federal appeals court in Manhattan agreed Thursday to postpone any retrial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges until the Supreme Court acts on a planned petition to further review his case.
The postponement, opposed by prosecutors as a delay tactic with little chance of success before the Supreme Court, likely will put off any retrial until next year, buying time for the 73-year-old former Albany power broker, who had faced a 12-year prison sentence.
Last month, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Silver's conviction for doing favors on behalf of a cancer researcher and developer who funneled $4 million legal referral fees to the former speaker, ruling the jury instructions were wrong and Silver was entitled to a new trial.
But the Second Circuit did find there was sufficient evidence for a properly instructed jury to convict. Silver wants the Supreme Court to reconsider that finding, and bar any retrial if it concludes there was insufficient evidence.
Silver lawyers Steve Molo and Joel Cohen lauded the move by the Second Circuit to hold off issuing its opinion until the Supreme Court acts, which will effectively stymie any effort by the government to get a quick retrial.
"The court recognized the significance of the issues we will be raising in the Supreme Court," the lawyers said. "It put a halt to the trial court proceedings to allow us to do that."
A spokesman for Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said, "This office still plans to retry the case as soon as possible."
The Second Circuit ruled in Silver's case three weeks ago. He has at least 90 days from then to petition the Supreme Court and can seek extensions, lawyers said. Prosecutors have said the process would delay any retrial by a minimum of "several months."
Citing disagreements on the law that have emerged in different federal appeals courts, Silver claims that at trial, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni applied the wrong standards to money laundering, bribery and extortion charges. Under the correct standard, Silver claims, the evidence was insufficient to prove all those crimes.
To get the stay, he had to convince the three appeals judges who decided his case -- Jose Cabranes, Richard Wesley and William Sessions -- that his arguments raise a "substantial question" for the Supreme Court, and that there is "good cause" to hold off on a retrial.
Prosecutors had argued that the Supreme Court rarely grants review in situations like Silver's, a retrial is inevitable and postponement would "delay the justice sought by the real victims of Silver's crimes, the citizens of New York."