Ex-N.Y. state senate leader asks U.S. appeals court for new trial

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for former New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam on Thursday urged a U.S. appeals court to overturn the two men’s corruption convictions in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Former New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos arrives at the Manhattan federal court house in New York City, U.S. May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Alexandra Shapiro, arguing on behalf of the elder Skelos before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, said the jury in the case was given a definition of political corruption that the Supreme Court rejected when it overturned the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

In McDonnell’s case, the Supreme Court ruled last June that routine political activities like arranging meetings generally were not “official acts” that could give rise to a corruption conviction.

Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos were sentenced in May 2016 to five and 6-1/2 years in prison, respectively, following their convictions on fraud and bribery charges.

Prosecutors had accused Dean Skelos, a Republican, of using his position as Senate majority leader to pressure three companies that wanted his support in the state legislature into paying favors to his son, including a lucrative “no-show” job.

In exchange, Dean Skelos pushed through legislation, including a rent control bill, to benefit the companies, prosecutors said.

Shapiro argued on Thursday that the conviction had to be overturned because there was no way to know whether the jury reached its verdict based on Skelos’ support for legislation, or simply on his meetings with the companies, which would not be enough to convict after last year’s Supreme Court ruling.

“This is at the heart of whether the jury was given the proper tools,” she said.

Circuit Judge Reena Raggi peppered her with questions, at one point suggesting that it was “inconceivable” that a jury would reach a verdict solely based on meetings Skelos had, and not legislation he helped pass.

Robert Culp, a lawyer for Adam Skelos, argued that there was no proof Adam knew he was benefiting from a bribery scheme.

That argument provoked skepticism from U.S. District Judge Hellerstein, a visiting judge from Manhattan’s federal district court.

“What do you think was in his mind when he said, ‘Dad, get me a job?’” Hellerstein asked.

Thomas McKay, a lawyer for the government, conceded that the jury was instructed according to a now-outdated definition of corruption. But, he said, that could not have changed the outcome.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler