A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned the 2015 corruption conviction of Sheldon Silver, once the powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly, saying the judge’s jury instructions were in error in light of a United States Supreme Court decision that has since narrowed the legal definition of corruption.Silver sent state funds to a doctor who sent patients to a law firm that paid Silver for referrals, and backed legislation that favored developers who sent business to another law firm that shared fees with him.
Mr. Silver was convicted on charges that he had obtained nearly $4 million in illicit payments in return for taking a series of official actions that benefited others. But in the jury instructions, the judge’s explanation of an official action was too broad, the appeals court found, because it swept in some conduct that the Supreme Court’s decision would now exclude.
Federal prosecutors quickly vowed to retry the case, noting that the appeals court said that the evidence against Mr. Silver was legally sufficient to support a conviction.
Long Island state Senator (and former federal prosecutor) Todd Kaminsky, in a Daily News op-ed, suggested three state reforms:
- Restrict gift-giving to public officials.
- Ban outside income for lawmakers.
- Empower [local] district attorneys.
Regardless, reform advocates in New York said something would have to change or Albany would just get worse. [Citizens Union's Dick] Dadey said he believed it would embolden lawmakers who were tempted to cheat or steal. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican from Canandaigua, said "shows that the golden age of Albany corruption is still very much alive."
"If his actions weren’t illegal," Kolb said, "it’s hard to imagine what is."