Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver‘s attorneys on Tuesday filed a motion to dismiss their client’s indictment, accusing United States attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara of running a “media firestorm, ” and a “media circus, ” depriving their client of the presumption of innocence and prejudiced his case in court, the NY Times reported.
Silver’s motion suggest that “the effect of the U.S. attorney’s actions is to convict in the media before even calling his first witness, ” using what they called Bharara’s “improper extrajudicial statements.”
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Silver, 71, is charged with mail and wire fraud and extortion under the color of official right. He is accused exploiting his position to get some $4 million over 15 years, falsely reporting the money as legitimate income from his law practice.
He pleaded not guilty.
Silver told reporters outside the courtroom: “I am confident I will be vindicated in the courtroom.”
One of Silver’s lawyers described a news conference run by prosecutor Bharara on the day he announced the charges, a speech Bharara gave at New York Law School, and his on MSNBC—before the grand jury returned the indictment.
“It was orchestrated, ” Silver’s attorney argued, to reach the “significant effect of compromising” the grand jury proceeding and “depriving Mr. Silver of his right to a presumption of innocence.”
The defense motion to dismiss argued that “during his many public appearances, ” Bharara “has ventured far beyond the neutral recitations of the charges that once accompanied such events. Instead, he has offered his uncensored views about Mr. Silver’s guilt, his character and the severity of his crimes — always in inflammatory, over-the-top language that targets not just Mr. Silver but the entire New York State government.”
The motion said news reports about the speaker’s arrest and the charges against him, citing unnamed “law enforcement sources, ” appeared six hours before Silver was arrested, Jan. 22, when the criminal complaint against him was still under seal, .
Silver’s lawyers asked Judge Valerie E. Caproni to poll the grand jurors that indicted Silver and to let them see the secret grand jury minutes.
“It strains credulity to think that grand jurors who returned their indictment smack in the middle of the U.S. attorney’s press campaign would not have been affected by that coverage, ” the motion said.
The prosecution called the allegations “baseless, ” saying “there was certainly no prejudice in the grand jury proceeding.”
The prosecution told the court it plans to call between 20 and 25 witnesses, over about three weeks. The defense said it would need at least a week.
The Judge has not set a trial date yet.