Recently Alexandra Shapiro was successful in overturning the corruption conviction of Dean Skelos, a former New York state senator and majority leader. Skelos and his son, Adam Skelos, had been charged in 2015 by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) with bribery, extortion and conspiracy relating to accusations that the father’s office pressured a developer, a medical malpractice insurer and environmental company to give his son consulting work that resulted in hundreds of thousands of payments. The father and son were convicted at trial in December 2015. Alexandra represented the ex-senator on appeal and another lawyer represented the son. Both convictions were overturned. This isn’t the first time Alexandra has been victorious at the Second Circuit. We have blogged about her seemingly golden touch before in a blog post, Alexandra the Great.
The grounds for appeal were largely based on the United States Supreme Case ruling in McDonnell v United States which limited the application of the federal bribery statute 18 U.S.C. §201. The Court ruled that an official act is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” and that it must involve the formal exercise of a governmental power, be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. The Court clarified that setting up a meeting, talking to another official or organizing an event, without more, does not qualify as an “official act” per McDonnell.
In the Skelos appeal, the panel found that the jury instruction given in the Skelos case was too broad, and considering the ruling in McDonnell, the definition of “official acts” provided to the Skelos jury could not be ruled harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Skelos appeal ruling was instant big news and reported in the New York Daily News and in the New York Times, where Shapiro was quoted as stating that Dean Skelos was grateful for the ruling and that “[w]e believe that as events unfold, it is going to become clear that this is a case that never should have been brought.”
Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the SDNY has already indicated that the office intends to retry the father and son and was quoted in the New York Times as stating, “We look forward to a prompt retrial…” Oddly enough, even former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who no longer would need to comment, felt compelled to weigh in on the ruling on Twitter.
Regardless of what the future holds for this case, this victory lap is sweet and another well-deserved win for Alexandra Shapiro, who has her own firm Shapiro Arato, in New York City. Alexandra continues to be at the center of many of the most influential white-collar appeals in this last decade and she continues to be a shining example of the great work that women are doing in our field.