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Silver retrial delayed due to witness' medical issue

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver leaves a federal courthouse after a pretrial hearing on Tuesday in Manhattan. Credit: Charles Eckert

The scheduled start next week of former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver’s retrial on corruption charges will be pushed back because of a medical issue involving the government’s star witness, Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said Tuesday.

Prosecutors sought the adjournment because of undisclosed health problems involving Dr. Robert Taub, the Columbia University mesothelioma researcher who allegedly sent patients to a Silver-linked law firm in return for $500,000 in state grants, and was given immunity for his testimony.

Caproni said she plans to go forward with jury selection beginning on April 16, but didn’t decide whether to delay opening statements and the start of testimony until April 23, favored by the defense, or approve the government’s request for a two-week delay until April 30.

The judge was scheduled to hold a no-press telephone conference late on Tuesday to hear from a lawyer for Taub, 81, and decide on a new start date, but did not announce a decision afterward. The trial is expected to last 4 to 6 weeks.

Silver, 73, was convicted in 2015 of using his power in the legislature to do favors for Taub and a real estate company in return for referrals and legal fees to two law firms he was affiliated with.

Caproni sentenced him to 12 years in prison, but the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction due to faulty jury instructions after the Supreme Court narrowed the definition of an “official act” that must be performed as part of a criminal quid pro quo arrangement.

At Silver’s first trial, prosecutors relied both on his actions that still qualify as official acts — such as the grants for Taub, and votes on real estate legislation — and on actions that may not, such as meeting with real estate lobbyists and helping Taub’s son find work.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Caproni batted away a series of defense motions relating to evidence, sticking with her rulings from the first trial. She said she won’t block evidence of favors by Silver that no longer qualify as official acts, after prosecutors argued such acts are still circumstantial evidence of his quid-pro-quo bribe schemes.

She also granted prosecution requests to rein in some lines of cross-examination used by Silver’s lawyer in the first trial. They will be barred, for example, from trying to generate sympathy for Silver because of his age, or bringing out tactics used by the FBI — such as a 6 a.m. visit to his apartment — to shake up Taub.

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