Shapiro Arato Files Opening Brief for Former New York State Senate Majority Leader in Public Corruption Appeal

On October 7, 2016, Shapiro Arato filed its opening brief in the criminal appeal of former New York State Senator Dean Skelos, who was convicted of federal corruption charges. At trial, the government argued that Mr. Skelos pressured companies to employ or pay his son in exchange for “official action” in their favor. This “official action” supposedly included Mr. Skelos meeting with lobbyists, setting up meetings with other officials, and voting on legislation. After Mr. Skelos’s trial, the Supreme Court decided McDonnell v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016), which sharply narrowed the scope of the corruption laws. Concerned that a broad definition of “official action” would criminalize routine political activity, the Court held that “official action” requires a formal exercise of governmental power. As a result, arranging meetings, attending events, and talking to other officials does not count. Our brief argues that Mr. Skelos is entitled, at a minimum, to a new trial because the jury was incorrectly instructed that everything public officials customarily do is “official action,” and the government urged the jury to convict Mr. Skelos for innocent conduct like attending and setting up meetings. We also argue that Mr. Skelos is entitled to acquittal, since there is no evidence that Mr. Skelos traded votes on legislation for payments to his son. Mr. Skelos never promised votes in exchange for payments, and his votes were consistent with his long-held political positions. Finally, we argue that the trial court improperly allowed witnesses to opine on whether it was ethical for Mr. Skelos to ask companies to help his son, which was inflammatory and irrelevant to whether he committed a crime.  Mr. Skelos’s case is United States v. Skelos, Second Circuit No. 16-1618.


Alexandra Shapiro, Daniel O’Neill, and Fabien Thayamballi co-authored the brief.  A copy of the brief is available here. More information about Shapiro Arato’s representation of Mr. Skelos can be found here .