White-Collar Crime

Conviction of former New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver is overturned

  • Print.

Sheldon Silver/New York State Assembly

Citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, a federal appeals court has vacated the corruption conviction of former New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said jury instructions in Silver’s case did not reflect the Supreme Court’s narrowed meaning of official acts that can support a federal bribery conviction. A properly instructed jury may not have convicted Silver, the 2nd Circuit said in its decision (PDF) on Thursday. The New York Times, Politico, the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) have coverage.

The Supreme Court decision, issued after Silver’s 2015 conviction, had said an official can’t be convicted for taking bribes unless he or she takes action or makes a decision on a matter involving a formal exercise of government power. The high court decision had overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who had argued he merely provided “routine political courtesies” to a businessman that were not official acts.

Silver had been sentenced to 12 years in prison in May 2016 partly for receiving $3.7 million in law firm referral fees for exerting his influence as a top Democratic lawmaker. Silver was of counsel at the personal injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, though he didn’t perform legal work for the law firm’s clients, according to the 2nd Circuit opinion

In one alleged scheme, Silver performed favors for a doctor seeking research funding in exchange for the doctor’s referral of mesothelioma patients to Silver’s law firm. In the other alleged scheme, Silver performed favors for two real estate developers who had hired, at Silver’s request, another law firm that paid referral fees to Silver.

Joon Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said he looks forward to retrying the case.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.