By: Scott Hobson & Phoebe Stonbely
The truth shall prevail.
This week, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested and charged with five counts of fraud and corruption. The federal investigation alleges the Speaker abused his position and power to enrich himself, claiming he received excess of $6 million over the last decade. The millions came from multiple sources including referrals and kickbacks from a powerful real estate developer and the law practice of Weitz & Luxenburg.
The complaint states: “Sheldon Silver, the defendant, has engaged in and continues to engage in a secret and corrupt scheme to deprive the citizens of the state of New York of his honest services, and to extort individuals and entities under color of official right, as an elected legislator and as Speaker of the New York State Assembly.”
In a press conference, US Attorney Preet Bahara offered a scathing assessment.,“The greedy art of secret self-reward was practiced by particular cleverness and cynicism by the speaker himself…Politicians are supposed to be on the people’s payroll, not on secret retainer to wealthy special interests they do favors for,” he continued. “These charges go to the very core of what ails Albany–a lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and lack of principle joined with an overabundance of greed, cronyism, and self-dealing.”
But that may just be the beginning. The arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on charges of corruption raises a host of new questions that prosecutors should address, particularly in relation to undue influence on the New York City Asbestos Litigation Court (NYCAL). Silver allegedly used his influence to drive millions of dollars in referrals to the asbestos firm Weitz and Luxenberg, generating hefty sums for himself and the firm, which reaps tremendous profits from its cases before the NYCAL.
The NYCAL was recently named the #1 “Judicial Hellhole” in the nation for its astoundingly preferential treatment of asbestos plaintiffs firms. In 2008, Speaker Silver appointed Weitz and Luxenberg partner, Arthur Luxenberg to the judicial selection committee, which in turn reviewed and approved the judges for the NYCAL.
As LRANY reported in 2014’s “Power of Attorney” Silver was courted by the powerful New York State Trial Lawyers Association, which has contributed millions of dollars to legislators political campaigns and spent lavishly for an army of lobbyists. Silver has forcefully opposed tort reform measures that would have hurt the lawsuit industry’s profits.
In addition to charges of fraud and corruption, federal investigators should carefully investigate connections between Silver and the NYCAL and seek to uncover any potentially illegal or unethical conduct involving the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant.