As former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver awaits appeal of his federal corruption conviction, a state appeals court in Manhattan has censured Silver’s former counsel for failing to disclose to clients that he was splitting legal fees with Silver.
Silver was convicted for running two schemes that included reaping $700,000 in payments to Jay Goldberg’s real estate tax certiorari firm, Goldberg & Iryami, for steering developers to the firm.
Prosecutors said Silver’s quid pro quo in that scheme included pushing developer-friendly legislation through the Assembly, where he served a dynastic run as speaker, from 1994 to 2015.
But the payouts from the small tax certiorari firm, which Goldberg founded after serving as counsel to Silver, were dwarfed by the $3 million Silver received for referring asbestos-related cancer cases from a Columbia University oncologist Robert Taub to Weitz & Luxenberg.
In turn, prosecutors say, Silver provided Taub with state research funding.
Taub and Goldberg’s law partner, Dara Iryami, testified for the government in Silver’s prosecution.
Among the evidence that prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York introduced in their case against Silver was a 2012 letter from Goldberg & Iryami to Silver outlining an arrangement in which Silver and Goldberg would provide joint representation to a developer.
“As agreed, a proportionate division of fees will be made between Jay Arthur Goldberg, P.C. and Sheldon Silver, Esq.,” the letter states.
A panel from the Appellate Division, First Department found that Goldberg’s failure to disclose his fee-sharing arrangement ran afoul of New York’s rules for professional conduct for attorneys; Goldberg admitted to the conduct, according to the court’s ruling.
Justices Judith Gische, Troy Webber, Jeffrey Oing, Anil Singh and Cynthia Kern joined in the ruling.
Kevin Culley appeared for the grievance committee.
Ethics attorney Michael Ross of the Law Offices of Michael S. Ross appeared for Goldberg. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Silver, 74, was first convicted on charges from the two bribery schemes in 2016, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit later tossed out the conviction, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed bribery statutes, thus requiring prosecutors pursuing corruption cases to show that alleged schemes resulted in tangible government actions.
The reversal of Silver’s first conviction turned on jury instructions provided by U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York that the appeals court found were too broad in terms of which acts constitute bribery.
Silver was convicted on his retrial in May, and his case is taking a second trip to the Second Circuit. He had been scheduled to surrender for his prison sentence on Oct. 4, but the prior day a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit granted a reprieve for Silver to stay out on bail while his appeal is pending.
The federal appeals court issued the reprieve following an hourlong hearing in which Meir Feder of Jones Day, who represents Silver, took questions from the judges on the merits of their appeal.
Both the prosecution and Caproni “lost sight” of the limitations that the U.S. Supreme Court set to distinguish conduct that “might not win any good government award but is not outlawed by federal bribery laws,” Feder said, according to a recording of the proceedings.
“Federal bribery law does not prohibit everything that seems bad or distasteful, it prohibits something specific,” Feder said. “It doesn’t prohibit providing benefits to powerful officials to curry favor with them. It doesn’t prohibit officials from taking actions that they know that affect their benefactors or contributors.”
While the court granted bail, Judge Jose Cabranes said its decision should not be interpreted to provide its views regarding the merits of Silver’s appeal.
“This is a merits panel and we’re not here to predict the possibility of reversal,” he said.