“Sheldon Silver, the disgraced ex-speaker of the New York state Assembly, was sentenced to seven years in prison — less than the 12 years he was sentenced to previously” before an appeals court ordered retrial [Kaja Whitehouse, New York Post, more (wanted to keep some of the money); Adam Klasfeld/Courthouse News; our coverage over the years]
Because jury instructions did not correctly reflect the narrower definition of honest-services law adopted by the Supreme Court in the case of Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, the Second Circuit has overturned the conviction of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; retrial is considered likely. [Kenneth Lovett/New York Daily News, New York Sun]
The former New York Assembly Speaker and linchpin of trial lawyer influence in the Empire State is a licensed lawyer no longer. [New York Daily News]
P.S. Commenter VMS says this step is a formality, Silver lost his right to practice as an attorney on conviction in November.
So does this mean better days ahead for New York, a terribly misgoverned state? As one who has been writing about New York politics since way back, I can’t bring myself to be too optimistic.
I got interested in Silver originally because of his distinctive role as protector of New York’s trial lawyers… But legal policy was only one of the many pots in which Silver kept his fingers, as Steven Malanga and Seth Barron detail in separate articles at City Journal. New York sluices huge amounts of money in its gigantic social services apparatus through non-profits, and friends of Sheldon were there to profit. Real estate development in New York is subject to famously convoluted restrictions, and huge sums are at stake in its rent control and rent stabilization system. Again and again, Silver was there to broker deals for his friends behind the scenes….
So long as New York pursues failed policies like rent control, it will open huge leeway for hidden favoritism. And then, sure as day, in will move the Sheldon Silver types.
Former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted on all seven criminal counts Monday in a corruption scheme that traded taxpayer cash and political favors for nearly $4 million in payoffs….The conviction of Silver — for decades one of the three most powerful politicians in the state — was a huge victory for anti-corruption crusading Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara.
Appeal is expected. The scheme was one in which Silver helped direct state research funds to a Columbia University physician specializing in asbestos-related disease in exchange for the doctor’s referral of patients to the Silver law firm, which resulted in large legal fees to Silver for cases in which he did no work. Earlier on the charges against Silver here, here, here (and related).
While machine politicians are common enough in New York, Silver (in Wayne Barrett’s words) “for two decades presented himself as the personally devout, politically principled leader of the most progressive slice of New York political life.” Whatever his relations with other Democratic interest groups, Silver always put trial lawyers first.
Dr. Robert Taub, a mesothelioma specialist at Columbia University, got sucked into the Albany ethical abyss and in particular the moneymaking schemes of former New York Assembly Speaker and longtime Overlawyered favorite Sheldon Silver [Bill Hammond, Politico/Capital New York, quotes me] The defense proffered by Silver’s lawyers draws heavily on the idea that look, this is the way New York works [New York Post]:
“It’s impossible, absolutely impossible,” argued defense lawyer Steven Molo, “for a member of the Assembly to … do the job that a person in the Assembly does and not have some sort of conflict of interest.
“That may make you uncomfortable,” he added, “but that is the system New York has chosen, and it is not a crime.”
Sheldon Silver’s arrest prompts Jeffrey Toobin to relate a war story regarding the now-defunct law firm known as Morris Eisen, P.C., “an outfit so extravagantly corrupt, so hilariously dishonest, and so creatively malign as almost to defy belief.” (I’ve written a number of times about the Eisen firm myself.) Eisen’s son-in-law, who had gotten his start with the firm, went on to found the firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, where Silver had his no-visible-duties job and to which he occasionally sent lucrative asbestos referrals from his friends at the Columbia clinic and elsewhere.
Weitz & Luxenberg (which has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the federal investigation, and says it has asked Silver to take a leave of absence) is also a big political player nationally, not just in New York. As Kim Strassel notes at the WSJ, “Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s top contributor from 2009 to 2014 was Weitz & Luxenberg. The firm played the same role for Bruce Braley, the trial-lawyer Democrat who just lost an Iowa Senate race.” The other large asbestos firm to receive lucrative patient referrals from Dr. Robert Taub’s now-discontinued Columbia University mesothelioma center is the Simmons firm of Illinois, another big political donor that Strassel says has been the single biggest backer of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
Previously on the Silver arrest here and here. More: “Tarnished Silver: Speaker’s arrest upends most everything in Albany” [Andrew Hawkins, Crain’s New York (“his support for the teachers’ union has kept education reformers at bay”); Henry Goldman, Bloomberg; Wayne Barrett on Silver’s “Friends of Shelly” network of pals, including Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (“In his varied posts, Lippman has long overseen the very courts hearing the asbestos and other cases brought by Silver’s firm.”)
And this Joseph Nocera column from the weekend, which is particularly strong on Silver’s influence over the judiciary in New York, built up through methods all “perfectly legal.” But note this NYT correction stating that Nocera’s discussion of the judiciary in that column was “premised on several factual errors.” (More on that: New York Sun.) The New York Post believes the feds are sniffing around Manhattan trial courts.
“Ugly” question raised by arrest of New York assembly speaker Sheldon Silver: how often do law firms trade cash to doctors for mesothelioma referrals? [Alison Frankel/Reuters, Science magazine, earlier] And from the New York Times:
…mesothelioma doctors and personal injury lawyers specializing in asbestos-related litigation have developed over the years what some medical ethical experts describe as an unseemly alliance.
For plaintiffs’ lawyers, mesothelioma patients are a bonanza, worth $1.5 million to $2 million on average per case, according to legal experts; individual cases can yield much more. The hunger for these clients is evident to anyone who has watched late-night cable television and seen the garish ads aimed at those afflicted with the disease….
A symbiotic relationship has emerged, with lawyers financing research on the disease for doctors who send along streams of potentially lucrative clients.
- “Silver’s perversion of a health-care grant that was earmarked for post-9/11 programs” [New York Daily News editorial] Columbia University closes its Mesothelioma Center, deeply involved in the scandal, which had been given a commendation by the New York Assembly in 2011 as its director quietly referred millions in cases to Silver [Daily News]
- Circle wagons first, name committee chairs later: Albany in panic over Silver nab [New York Post, Albany Times-Union]
- Lawyer referral fees, nonprofit cash figured in Lerach/Weiss scandal as well [Daniel Fisher, more]
- Eric Schneiderman, Kathleen Rice… “Law Firm at Center of Silver Scandal Donated Huge Sums” to Moreland Commission figures [New York Observer]
- More: New York Post on, inter alia, strong position held by Weitz & Luxenberg in New York courts; Wayne Barrett/Village Voice 2009 on Silver’s work in obtaining Chief Judge job for old friend Jonathan Lippman. And from Bob McManus at the New York Post: “Orange Is The New Silver.”
According to multiple reports, the FBI has taken New York assembly speaker Sheldon Silver into custody following a corruption investigation. Silver is widely thought to know more about the internal workings of Albany than any other person, so if he begins talking things could get interesting. Our previous coverage of Silver — and there’s been a lot — is here, or chronologically at this tag. My coverage of him 2005-2010 at Point of Law is here.
More: The complaint (courtesy WSJ) alleges improprieties with income both from a real estate law firm and from asbestos legal cases. On the latter, it alleges that Silver directed state research money to a university doctor in Manhattan, and that the doctor referred lucrative asbestos cases to Silver’s firm of Weitz & Luxenberg. The doctor is described as a “well-known expert” who “conducts mesothelioma research” and who had created a center at his university by or before 2002 related to that subject. The doctor, not named in the complaint, “has entered into an agreement with the USAO SDNY [U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York] under which he will not be prosecuted for the conduct described herein, and that obligates him to provide truthful information to and cooperate with the government.” [pp. 24-25] Related post: Cato at Liberty.
Yet more: Remembering when the National Council of State Legislatures awarded Silver its “prestigious” and delightfully named “William M. Bulger Excellence in State Leadership Award” [Howie Carr, New York Post via Margaret Soltan]