Silver conviction reversal proves state law needs changing

The recent reversal of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corruption conviction is just the latest reason why New York state needs tougher ethics laws.

Silver had been convicted, in short, for his role in a three-part scheme that used his position as Assembly Speaker to make millions of dollars through do-nothing deals with two real estate developers and a cancer researcher at Columbia University.

Last week, Silver’s conviction was overturned based on the precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case involving former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. The McDonnell decision narrowed the federal definitions of official acts of bribery and honest services fraud by those who hold public office. Judges who heard Silver’s appeal dismissed Silver’s claims that the evidence against him was insufficient, saying the instructions to the jury hearing Silver’s case weren’t in compliance with the McDonnell case and that the incorrect instructions weren’t a harmless error.

Such are the problems when prosecutors have to rely on federal statute rather than state laws. It is a shame Silver’s conviction has been overturned on a technicality. It is an even bigger shame that there remains nothing in state law to preclude current officeholders from engaging in the same behavior. State legislators have an opportunity to change that — the question is if they will choose to put the public’s interest ahead of their own.