Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s 2015 corruption conviction that triggered his removal from office was overturned by a federal appeals court Thursday.
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan concluded in its ruling that a recent Supreme Court decision in favor of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell clarifying the definition of official misconduct meant jury instructions were “erroneous” when Silver was found guilty.
The Manhattan Democrat, who spent more than two decades as Assembly speaker, was convicted on Nov. 30, 2015 of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering in relation to $4 million in illicit fees he received in return for advocating legislation to help real estate companies and a cancer researcher. He was sentenced to 12 years of prison in May 2016.
“We recognize that many would view the facts adduced at Silver’s trial with distaste,” Judge José A. Cabranes wrote in the unanimous three-judge panel decision. “The question presented to us, however, is not how a jury would likely view the evidence presented by the Government. Rather, it is whether it is clear, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a rational jury, properly instructed, would have found Silver guilty.”
Silver resigned his Assembly leadership post prior to his trial on Feb. 2, 2015 and was replaced by Joseph Morelle, D- Irondequoit. The federal conviction 10 months later resulted in him being automatically expelled from the Assembly. Silver’s district in Lower Manhattan is now represented by Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, D-Manhattan.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in a statement Thursday that his office plans to seek a new case against Silver.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, said Thursday that Silver's conviction reversal reinforces a need for corruption cases to be led at the local level rather than by federal prosecutors. Prior to entering the state legislature, Kaminsky was an assistant U.S. Attorney and prosecuted successful corruption cases against State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr., and Assemblyman Jimmy Meng.
"It is well past time that our state legislature enact real anti-corruption measures and empower local district attorney offices to bring corruption cases," said Kaminsky. "Voters have no doubt that corruption exists on all levels of government and today’s decision is one more striking blow to their faith in honest government -- it is time for our state to step up.”
Silver was at center of several public finance issues related to New York City and New York State during his Assembly tenure as speaker from 1994 to early 2015. He led the repeal of New York City’s former commuter tax in 1999 and in 2007 opposed a congestion pricing plan proposed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In 2005, Silver also killed efforts to build a new stadium for the National Football League’s New York Jets on the West Side of Manhattan that would have involved the city and state each issuing $300 million of bonds for construction costs.