NEW YORK — Federal appeals court judges didn’t seem eager Thursday to embrace the arguments of lawyers seeking a new trial for Republican former state Senate leader Dean Skelos and his son.
Skelos was convicted in 2015 on extortion, bribery and conspiracy charges. He was sentenced last year to five years in prison and appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Prosecutors said the once powerful politician strong-armed three companies into giving his son $300,000. The son, Adam Skelos, was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.
Attorney Alexandra Shapiro, arguing for Dean Skelos, and attorney Robert Culp, arguing for Adam Skelos, told a three-judge panel the convictions should be vacated. Shapiro said that would be consistent with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling reversing the conviction of a former Virginia governor.
Circuit Judge Reena Raggi challenged Shapiro repeatedly, saying Shapiro was being “a little selective in the facts” she highlighted.
When Shapiro argued that prosecutors had no evidence linking Dean Skelos’ votes to favors for his son, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein said, “The jury inferred.”
When Shapiro argued that the government at trial encouraged jurors to largely ignore the relevance of whether Skelos took a legislative action to compensate companies that responded to his demands, Raggi said, “That’s just not so.”
An exasperated Shapiro said, “I think the court is misstating the law, with all due respect.”
What constitutes an official action was freshly defined when the U.S. Supreme Court last year reversed the public corruption conviction of former Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who once was on the short list to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate.
Judges who presided over the Skelos’ trial and the trial of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have permitted the Skeloses and Silver to remain free while the 2nd Circuit decides whether their convictions are consistent with the McDonnell decision. Silver, a Democrat, was convicted in a $5 million scheme and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McKay argued, Raggi challenged him as well, noting that the trial judge’s instruction on the law to the jury “appears to have problems in light of the McDonnell decision.”
McKay said that Dean Skelos took a series of actions on behalf of companies helping his son and that the evidence was so overwhelming that the McDonnell ruling should not disturb the jury’s verdict.