Sheldon Silver’s ‘distasteful’ defense

Opening arguments in the retrial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver laid it all out Monday. The prosecution said, “He abused his power for personal gain” — and the facts absolutely bear that out. The defense was left quibbling that “there is no bribe” and “distasteful is not criminal.”

A jury of his peers convicted Silver back on Nov. 30, 2015, but an appeals court tossed that verdict after the Supreme Court ruled that an office-holder’s corruption must involve abuse of his official powers.

But prosecutors should have no problem meeting that standard. The evidence clearly shows he pocketed millions in “legal fees” as a result of 1) state grants he arranged for a doctor who then referred patients to Silver’s firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, for lucrative legal work, with the firm then rewarding Silver; and 2) his votes for bills that benefited real-estate developer Glenwood Management — which in turn paid yet another law firm that proceeded to send cash to Silver.

“No bribe”? Maybe by some definitions, but these were clearly payoffs and paybacks, and understood as such by all concerned. And, again, the “distasteful” acts involved the lawmaker’s official acts.

In the first trial, Silver’s lawyers said his actions were just part of “the system New York has chosen, and it’s not a crime.” That may well be the system that dominates the Legislature, but expect the people to show that it is, indeed, a crime.

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