Jury selection in the federal corruption trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver began Monday in lower Manhattan. Silver is charged with accepting kickbacks and misusing his public office for personal gain. Time Warner Cable News State House Reporter Zack Fink has more from the court room.
On Monday, the process began of trying to find 12 jurors who can spend an estimated four to six weeks deciding the fate of Sheldon Silver, once one of the most powerful men in New York State.
Prospective jurors faced questions from federal district judge Valerie Caproni. The goal was to have a sitting jury by the close of business, but that did not happen. Instead, attorneys from the government and the defense will begin their own questioning of a pool of 36 jurors Tuesday.
"Things are moving slow but we are confident that we've been raising questions about how this income, this alleged income, really has been influencing policy in Albany," Tom Stebbins of Lawsuit Reform Alliance said. "And we are glad that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Government are finally looking into this."
Because of the slow start, opening arguments will not begin until, at the earliest, Tuesday afternoon. And it's looking more likely that won't happen until Wednesday.
"I think it's going to be an interesting case for any juror to be on," defense attorney Michael Bachner said. "I think, oftentimes, lawyers like clean slates. They don't want people coming in with predispositions about what they've read and what they've heard."
Silver is accused of steering public money to a cancer research institute and referring patients to a law firm where he served as "of counsel" in exchange for fees. He's also accused of pressuring a major real estate developer to use a small law firm downtown for tax work. He also collected fees from that. In all, Silver is accused of pocketing nearly $4 million in what prosecutors claim are ill-gotten gains.
"I think really people don't know what is happening at the state level," Stebbins said. "And what happens at the state level impacts New Yorkers more than just about anything else. People know about the federal government. People know about the Republican debates, but they don't necessarily know what is happeing at the state level which arguably impacts their lives more than anything else."
Silver resigned as speaker earlier this year, but still serves in the assembly. He will have to resign if convicted.