LOWER MANHATTAN — Disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver can stay out of jail while fighting to overturn his corruption conviction, a Manhattan federal court judge ruled Thursday.
In a win for Silver — who was found guilty by a federal jury last year on a host of corruption charges related to two bribery schemes — Judge Valerie Caproni decided late Thursday that the once powerful politician could remain out of prison on bail while he appeals his conviction.
That means Silver, sentenced to 12 years in prison, could remain free for upwards of a year while he appeals his case — or never head to jail at all if a higher court throws out his conviction, or grants a new trial.
Silver had been fighting to stay out prison while he appeals, bolstered by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.
Silver's attorneys had argued that thanks to the McDonnell decision, his conviction would likely be overturned, and thus he should be granted continued bail.
Under federal law, a judge can only allow for bail if there's a real chance for winning an appeal. Judge Caproni, in her decision, did not say she thought Silver's case was closely related to McDonnell's, but did concede that the way jurors were told to define "official acts" in corruption cases could be questioned by a higher court, in light of the McDonnell case.
"Silver’s case is factually almost nothing like McDonnell; there is no question that Silver took a number of official acts — most obviously, passing legislation and approving state grants and tax-exempt financing — as part of a quid pro quo in the Mesothelioma and Real Estate Schemes," Judge Caproni wrote. "Nevertheless, there is a substantial question whether, in light of McDonnell, the charge was in error and, if so, whether the error was harmless."
Prosecutors, however, have argued in court papers that "McDonnell will not save" Silver.