Judge rejects ex-top New York lawmaker’s quest to move trial
NEW YORK (AP) — The retrial of a former top New York lawmaker will not be moved elsewhere despite claims that the indictment is fatally flawed and that pretrial publicity makes finding fair jurors impossible, a judge said Monday.
The extortion and bribery trial of former Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos and his son is set to begin in Manhattan on June 19 after prospective jurors fill out questionnaires this week.
U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood rejected an attempt by lawyers for the father and son to win dismissal of the indictment on the grounds that the grand jury was improperly instructed in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago that narrowed the legal boundaries of what constituted corruption and reversed the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
In a written ruling, Wood also rejected claims that pretrial publicity prevents a fair trial for Skelos and his son, Adam. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Defense lawyers did not immediately comment.
The judge noted that jurors are drawn from one of the most diverse parts of the country. She said that 128 articles about the defendants that were cited by their lawyers as tainting the minds of potential jurors were unlikely to have had much effect.
Over 90 of the articles were over 2 years old and the rest follow actual developments in the case or in similar corruption cases and do not rise to the level of prejudicial publicity requiring a change of venue, Wood said.
“Because the release of these articles was largely clustered around new events in this case or related cases, they do not show that New Yorkers have been barraged daily or weekly with news about this trial,” she said.
Skelos and his son were convicted by a jury in 2015 of extortion, conspiracy and bribery. Dean Skelos was sentenced to five years in prison. His son got 6½ years. The prison terms were negated, though, when a new trial was ordered by a federal appeals court in Manhattan after the Supreme Court’s McDonnell ruling.
Wood rejected an argument that the indictment must be dismissed because the grand jury could not be instructed in accordance with the Supreme Court’s ruling. She said dismissal would only be appropriate if there was prosecutorial misconduct.
The trial of the father and son comes just weeks after former Democratic New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted a second time on corruption charges. His earlier conviction and 12-year prison sentence were set aside after the McDonnell ruling.