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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver acknowledges running private law practice

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), at

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), at the regional economic development council awards in Albany on Dec. 11, 2014. Credit: Hans Pennink

ALBANY -- Powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Thursday said he's running his own private law practice as part of his outside income that totaled as much as $750,000 in 2013.

Silver, (D-Manhattan) has long reported his outside income for working for the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg in Manhattan. His required state ethics disclosures forms noted he received $650,000 to $750,000 in 2013 in total outside income.

Thursday, he confirmed he also serves clients in his own law practice. That puts him in the crosshairs of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's renewed effort to force lawmakers to disclose their private-sector clients, limit their outside income, and assure that "the sources of outside income can have nothing to do with the state of New York. Period."

Silver wouldn't identify his clients or what legal business he's done for them. "I can't tell you," Silver told reporters Thursday. "All I can tell you is I disclose everything." He said the legal work covers "a variety" of issues.

"I follow the law," he said. "They are not involved in any kind of state work." Silver's private practice was first reported by The New York Times.

Many lawmakers refuse to identify their clients, saying they need to protect attorney-client confidentiality under law. The New York City Bar Association, however, has said lawmakers are allowed under law and should disclose clients and outside income "to restore public confidence."

Silver's 2013 ethics filing identifies only his position with Weitz & Luxenberg as an employer outside the Assembly. But a further notation states he practices law outside the firm. It states that Silver is engaged in the "general practice of law with emphasis on representation of individual clients and personal injury actions and 'of counsel' to law firm," according to Silver's file with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, signed in May 2013.

State law doesn't require that lawmakers identify their law clients, only to say that outside work isn't a conflict with their public jobs. Silver wouldn't say how much he makes in his private practice. "I would say a majority -- more than a majority -- is for the firm," Silver said.

Good-government groups have long sought disclosure of lawmakers' private-sector clients to ward against conflicts of interest in legislation and state spending.

"Lawmakers should be required to report all outside income; the more detailed, the better," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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