Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s federal corruption trial doesn’t officially begin until Monday, but in a way, it’s already started. As the New York Times reports, more than 100 prospective jurors filled out questionnaires yesterday.
Silver is accused of exploiting his former position as Assembly speaker to collect $4 million in allegedly illegitimate legal fees. He was forced to step down from the leadership post but kept his Lower Manhattan seat. If convicted, Silver would be required to step aside.
In court, prosecutors and defense lawyers argued about the content and length of the questionnaire meant to screen out potential juror conflicts. Silver’s attorneys wanted 79 questions, while the U.S. Attorney proposed just five. Judge Valerie Caproni ultimately settled on 23 questions.
Here’s how the document begins:
The purpose of this questionnaire is to provide information to the Court and to the attorneys in this case – both the prosecutors and the defense attorneys – so that they can determine whether you can serve as a fair and impartial juror in this case. You must give true, candid and complete answers to every question. This is a criminal case, entitled United States of America versus Sheldon Silver. Briefly summarized, the Government has charged the defendant, Sheldon Silver, who is the former Speaker of the New York State Assembly, with public corruption offenses, including taking bribes and kickbacks, and with engaging in illegal monetary transactions. The defendant has pled not guilty and is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The prospective jurors are being asked whether they have read anything about the case, and if so, whether they have “formed any opinion about Mr. Silver that might make it difficult for you to be a fair and impartial juror in this case?” They’re also asked about ties to the real estate industry. Prosecutors allege that Silver directed a major developer to a law firm specializing in property tax law and then illegally collected referral fees.
People filling out the form are being called on to indicate whether they know any of about 70 people or organizations connected to the case. Among those listed are: Judy Rapfogel, Silver’s longtime chief of staff; Steven Spinola of the Real Estate Board of New York; Glenwood Management; Columbia University Medical Center; and the Shalom Task Force.
Potential jurors will be questioned in court as part of the voir dire process on Monday. The jury pool will consist of 70 people, including residents of the Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester County and other northern counties. The New York Law Journal reported that opening arguments could come as early as Tuesday.
Silver has expressed confidence in recent weeks that he will be found not guilty in the trial. His attorneys have repeatedly argued that the U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara, is overreaching, attempting to scapegoat the assemblyman for all of Albany’s ills.