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Court may reverse Larry Seabrook conviction

Ex-New York City Council member Larry Seabrook during

Ex-New York City Council member Larry Seabrook during a news conference on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan on June 23, 2003. Credit: Julia Gaines

A federal appeals court said Thursday it is considering reversing the corruption conviction of former New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook because members of his family and supporters may have been excluded from watching jury selection.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said any exclusion might have violated Seabrook's right to a "public trial," and ordered U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, who presided and later sentenced Seabrook, a Democrat, to 5 years in prison, to do fact finding to see what occurred.

Citing earlier cases, appeals judges Denny Chin and Guido Calabresi said the right to a public trial was of "exceptional importance" and "not trivial," but said they could not resolve the case without more clarity on exactly what happened.

Seabrook, a former state assemblyman and senator from the Bronx, was convicted in 2012 of scheming to funnel thousands in city money through nonprofits that he controlled to friends, relatives and a girlfriend.

In affidavits submitted to the Second Circuit, his brother, a friend and a political supporter said they were asked by a deputy clerk to leave the courtroom during jury selection.

The official trial record also quoted Batts saying at one point, "If the jury is ready to come in, then I'm going to have to ask our visitors to vacate the seats so that we have a place for the jury."

In 2012, three different Second 2d Circuit judges reversed the conviction of an immigration lawyer for filing false applications because Batts had excluded some members of the public during questioning of jurors.

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