A U.S. Supreme Court decision vacating the corruption conviction of Virginia's former governor could have major repercussions in two major cases that rocked the State Capitol in Albany. Josh Robin filed the following report.
The former state Assembly speaker, sentenced to 12 years. Nine days later, the former state Senate majority leader, sentenced to five years.
But Monday's Supreme Court decision could scramble both convictions, leaving both Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver not only free on appeal, but facing fewer charges if re-tried.
"I do think that there are some counts, particularly in the Skelos matter, that may not have risen to the level of having an official action on behalf of the senator," said defense attorney Paul DerOhannesian II.
"Official action" being the key phrase.
Monday's decision revolves around Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. He took loans and gifts from a businessman, in turn arranging meetings with Virginia state officials. But the court unanimously found his jury wasn't given correct instructions on the meaning of "official act."
"This was a narrow decision, and it was somewhat dependent on the particular, somewhat unusual facts in Bob McDonnell's case. But you know, he's not out of the woods yet himself, so it's hard for me to believe that anyone else is," said Daniel Weiner of the Brennan Center for Justice
Silver's lawyers say, "The Supreme Court's unanimous decision today in the McDonnell case makes clear that the federal government has gone too far in prosecuting state officials for conduct that is part of the everyday functioning of those in elected office. The McDonnell decision will be central to Mr. Silver’s appeal."
Not surprisingly, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney who brought both cases in New York, thinks the opposite.
In a statement, Bharara said, "While we are reviewing the McDonnell decision, the official actions that led to the convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos fall squarely within the definition set forth by the Supreme Court today."
Skelos' attorney declined comment.
There are parallels to another corruption case in New York: a Supreme Court decision that led to charges thrown out against Skelos' predecessor.
Joseph Bruno had been found guilty in 2009 of two counts of mail fraud, but legal doubt stemming from another Supreme Court decision led to it being vacated. In 2014, Bruno was aquitted of remaining charges, a result, no doubt, that Silver and Skelos are hoping reoccurs.