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Justice delayed, justice denied

Sheldon Silver leaves a courthouse in November 2015. (AP photo)

It is an embarrassment to the state of New York that corrupt ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is getting another extension on beginning his prison sentence — and another chance to reduce its length, currently set at seven years.

Amazingly, it’s already been five years since Silver was charged with bribery for orchestrating an elaborate scheme: Prosecutors say he charged hefty fees to use the power of his state office to do favors for a cancer researcher — in the form of state grants and law firm referrals — as well as for real estate developers. He accumulated nearly $4 million this way over a decade.

He went on trial twice, starting in 2015, and was convicted both times, but he keeps finding success on appeal.

Now the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out some of his charges and sent his case back for re-sentencing. The three-judge panel agreed the evidence overwhelmingly showed Silver knowingly used his influence on the Assembly to allocate state grant money for those who paid him. He “chose to abuse that power for personal gain,” the judges wrote in their decision.

Yet they threw out some of the charges anyway, for what seem like technicalities: a judge’s imperfect jury instructions, and because the statute of limitations may have expired on some of the crimes.

The latter reason is especially galling considering that Silver’s strategy of delaying this thing as long as possible may have helped him evade consequences, despite his guilt.

He’s now 75, trying to keep as many of his remaining years on earth prison-free — living the retired life with all his wealth.

What other person, convicted twice of lesser crimes — low-level drug charges, for instance — is still free after five years? His case suggests to the public that the titans of government can get away with things the rest of us cannot.

There is no question that Silver carried out this scheme and made all that money. His side doesn’t deny it. In appealing his first trial, his defense was that his actions weren’t illegal — just doing services for a fee. Of course, those services could only be performed by someone holding the levers of power in state government, entrusted to him by the voters.

Thankfully, a second trial overturned that cynical defense.

Silver is guilty and should be sent to prison — soon. That act of justice is needed so other politicians think twice about corrupt behavior. It is needed so people don’t always assume the worst of politicians. It is needed to keep people from rebelling against the system.

But that act of justice keeps getting delayed — and, therefore, denied.

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