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Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's trial expected to open Tuesday

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver leaves Federal Court in Manhattan after appearing for a pre-trial hearing on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

The judge in the corruption trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver shrugged off defense efforts to disqualify prospective jurors who said they were familiar with the allegations as jury selection began Monday in federal court in Manhattan.

One of those questioned, Justin Krasner of Manhattan, a children's book editor who said on his juror questionnaire that he knew Silver had been accused of having some "dirty dealings throughout his career," explained his feelings to U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni.

"I hold politicians and elected officials to a very high standard," added Krasner, who said his father had once worked as a physician for Congress. "They are different from civilians."

Another prospective juror, Karen Bruno, a Rockland County school counselor, said on her questionnaire that corruption allegations were "not uncommon," and explained to Caproni that an FBI probe of a local official was unfolding in her hometown of Ramapo.

"There's been a lot going on right where I live," she said.

In both cases, Silver defense lawyer Steven Molo urged Caproni to remove the prospective jurors from consideration, but both jurors told the judge they could follow her instructions and judge Silver fairly, and Caproni said those answers gave her confidence they could serve.

Silver, 71, is charged with making $4 million from two schemes in which he did legislative favors for developers and for an asbestos doctor who funneled legal fees to two law firms that paid Silver. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

Working past 7:30 p.m., the judge questioned 54 prospective jurors -- a majority of whom said they had at least some familiarity with the charges -- and qualified 36 as free from bias and able to serve.

Caproni said she expects opening statements Tuesday morning after the lawyers pick the final 12 jurors and alternates.

The professions of the prospective jurors range from doctor and lawyer to teacher, nurse, cabdriver and psychologist, with many from Manhattan and Westchester County, but some from the Bronx and Rockland County as well. Two said they were recently unemployed.

Most of the excused jurors claimed hardship, but they also included one man who said that in his "gut" he didn't trust witnesses who made deals with the prosecution, and another who remembered a cartoon of Silver being sworn in from a garbage can and said he couldn't be fair.

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