A lawyer for former Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos told three appeals judges on Thursday his client deserved a new trial on corruption charges based on a more demanding legal standard adopted by the Supreme Court, but faced tough and skeptical questions from the panel.
“The question is can a man be deprived of his liberty when the jury was not given the proper instruction?” said Alexandra Shapiro, a lawyer for one-time Albany power broker Skelos, convicted of doing legislative favors in return for jobs and money for his son Adam.
Skelos was convicted in 2015 of favors ranging from setting up meetings and calling officials to backing laws for three companies that hired Adam Skelos. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a “quid pro quo” bribery scheme had to involve a so-called “official act” that was a formal exercise of government power.
Although Skelos’ jury was told to consider alternatives like meetings that wouldn’t qualify under the new standard, two judges suggested that his support of actual legislation for an insurer and a real estate company was so central that it was hard to believe jurors relied just on other factors.
“In each of these schemes, there was a legislative act at the end of the day,” said Judge Alvin Hellerstein.
“It’s inconceivable the jury said we have reasonable doubt on that part, since legislation was enacted, but instead convicted based on meetings,” said the head of the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel, Judge Reena Raggi. “What’s the reason we should even consider that plausible?”
Dean Skelos, 69, and Adam Skelos, 34, both of Rockville Centre, were convicted of using Dean’s clout to squeeze Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers, a Roslyn malpractice firm, New Hyde Park developer Glenwood Management, and Nassau County storm water contractor AbTech Industries.
The senator and his son were sentenced to five and 6 1⁄2-year prison terms, but both have stayed out due to legal questions raised by the Supreme Court case. Sheldon Silver, former State Assembly speaker, also has an appeal of his corruption conviction pending based on that decision.
Shapiro insisted that jurors never focused on the question of whether Skelos actually agreed to sell his vote, because they were told that just agreeing to meet with a lobbyist was enough.
“This jury was effectively told not to think about this . . . because it was so easy to prove,” she said.
But prosecutor Thomas McKay argued the “brazen” nature of the schemes — Adam Skelos blew off work at the insurer, which needed regular legislation from the Senate — was what persuaded jurors, along with testimony from cooperating witnesses who said they were buying Skelos’ vote.
“They said they were paying for legislation,” McKay said.
Robert Culp, Adam Skelos’s lawyer, argued that in addition to the senator’s arguments, his client’s conviction should also be reversed because there was no evidence he actually knew of any corrupt quid pro quo legislative deals to secure the work.
But Hellerstein sharply challenged the claim that jurors, like Adam, couldn’t deduce what was going on.
“What do you think Adam had in mind when he asked his dad to get him a job?” the judge asked. “You don’t think it’s in Adam’s mind that his father having the power to control or influence legislation needed by each of these three employers would be using that and he wanted his dad to use that because he wanted the job and he didn’t care about the consequences?”
The judges did not indicate when they will rule.