- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) - Appeals court judges in New York seemed receptive Thursday to arguments that a recent Supreme Court ruling casts doubt on ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s public corruption conviction.

But the three-judge 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Manhattan did not say how it will rule after hearing over an hour of oral arguments.

Silver, a 73-year-old Democrat, was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison after he was convicted of collecting $4 million in kickbacks from a cancer researcher and real estate developers in return for using his powerful post to help them.

He has not had to report to prison after the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Virginia Republican ex-Gov. Robert McDonnell, providing Silver a substantial issue on appeal. In reversing McDonnell’s conviction on charges he illegally accepted more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from a businessman, the Supreme Court raised the standards federal prosecutors must use when they accuse public officials of wrongdoing.

Silver’s lawyer, Steven Molo, told the appeals panel that the reasoning in the Supreme Court case shows the Silver jury was improperly instructed on the law and the judges should order an acquittal or at least a new trial.

Some of the toughest questions Thursday were directed to the government, including some from Judge William Sessions of the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. He was sitting on the appeals court temporarily.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein said the judge presiding over Silver’s trial did not use the exact language the Supreme Court called for in its McDonnell ruling when she instructed the jury on the law, but the judge did require the jury to find something similar enough that the conviction should pass the appeals court’s scrutiny.

Circuit Judge Richard Wesley asked Goldstein if “any powerful person who asks somebody to do something is committing a federal crime because people are afraid of powerful people and they want to curry their favor?”

“Not in every case your honor,” Goldstein responded.

“Is every invitation to a fundraiser a threat?” Wesley continued.

“Absolutely not your honor,” Goldstein said.

“But we have to draw some lines here. I don’t understand. The simple fact he’s a powerful person doesn’t mean that every time he asks somebody to do something that he’s committing a crime, does it?” Wesley asked.

“Absolutely not your honor. But there are additional factors,” the prosecutor responded, saying the way to decide if there is a crime is to see whether Silver was influenced in his official actions. Goldstein said Silver crossed the line.

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