Just hours after they began deliberating Tuesday, jurors in the federal corruption trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver erupted in a series of notes reporting confusion, stress and discord that remained unresolved by the end of the day, with one juror seeking a private meeting with the judge.
The first note, sent out less than two hours after Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni finished instructions, came from an unidentified female juror asking to be excused because she had a "different opinion/view" and was getting pressed by others.
"It is making me feel very, very uncomfortable," the juror wrote. "I'm feeling pressured, stressed out . . . told that I'm not using my common sense. My heart is pounding and my head feels weird . . . I don't feel like myself right now. I need to leave!"
Then came another juror note, informing Caproni, "One of the Juror's is having difficulty distinguishing whether exchanging NYS funds for something in return is illegal" and asking if an Assembly ethics code "clearly outlines . . . this is the case."
An Assembly ethics code never came up at the trial, and Caproni told the jury to review her instructions on illegal "quid pro quos" and "respectfully exchange views." But at the end of the day, the first juror sent a new note asking a private meeting with Caproni.
With the defense concerned the juror might be a holdout for Silver who should be kept on the panel, the judge decided to put off an answer. "I want to mull this over," she told lawyers before dismissing jurors for the day.
Silver, 71, is accused of making $4 million in two separate bribery arrangements. The case lasted three weeks and was before a jury including eight women, eight minorities and seven Bronx residents.
The once-powerful ex-speaker allegedly got $500,000 in state research grants for an asbestos doctor who in return sent patients to Weitz & Luxenberg, a personal injury law firm from which Silver got referral fees.
He is also accused of doing legislative favors for New Hyde Park developer Glenwood Management and another Manhattan building owner in return for them using a law firm headed by Silver friend Jay Goldberg, who secretly shared fees with Silver.
The defense contends that the arrangements may have been conflicts of interest of the sort that are typical in a part-time legislature where lawmakers are permitted to make money on the side, but there was no "quid pro quo" altering Silver's official actions.
Caproni instructed jurors Silver is guilty if he was influenced at all in official actions by the referral fees, but innocent if he thought he was given referrals to "cultivate goodwill" or "nurture a relationship" with him but "not in exchange for any official action."
Silver faces wire and mail fraud counts on each bribery scheme for allegedly depriving citizens of his "honest services," an extortion count for each scheme, and a money laundering charge. The maximum sentence on all seven counts is 130 years in prison.