NEW YORK – In another state, it might have been a surreal moment.
But New York has grown so accustomed to allegations of wrongdoing by officials that seeing two of the most high-profile public corruption defendants nearly collide with each other in the same Manhattan courthouse was, perhaps, almost routine.
Joseph Percoco, the former senior aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on trial for allegedly selling the power of his state office, left Courtroom 443 as the second week of his trial concluded Thursday.
Within a minute of Percoco’s departure, in walked former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who appeared before the same judge in the same courtroom — for a status conference for a re-trial of a case in which he too is charged with allegedly enriching himself through the power of his office.
The star prosecution witness in Percoco's case, Todd Howe, had been on the witness list Thursday. But questioning of three other witnesses ran long, and Howe's appearance, highly anticipated by both prosecutors and defense lawyers, is now set for Monday.
Unrelated to each other, the Percoco and Silver cases have already depicted what prosecutors say is an unseemly world that can operate inside Albany’s seat of power.
Percoco is in the midst of a trial that could take another month. He is accused of allegedly taking more than $300,000 in bribes from executives with two companies – an energy plant firm and a Syracuse real estate development firm – in return for allegedly using his influential post in the Cuomo administration to get official state actions to financially benefit them.
Silver has been convicted of enriching himself by using his immense power when he ran the Assembly as speaker. A Manhattan Democrat, Silver saw that 2015 conviction overturned after the U.S. Supreme Court – in a case involving the former governor of Virginia – tightened the definition of public corruption.
Silver recently had a bid rejected to get the Supreme Court to hear his case, pushing the matter back for a re-trial before U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni, who presided over his 2015 trial.
Caproni is also the judge in the Percoco case.
Silver this week made a bid to change lawyers, a move that led his new lawyer, Michael Feldberg, to request during Thursday's hearing a postponement of Silver’s new trial on April 16.
Caproni, proving her no-nonsense style, had no part of it.
“Mr. Silver knew there was going to be another trial months ago,’’ she told the lawyers. She said “everyone knew” the case was going to come back before her, despite what she called Silver’s “Hail Mary” bid to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Caproni gave Silver a choice: keep his former lawyers or go with the new one. Either way, she said, “I’m not willing to change the trial date.’’
Silver went with the new lawyer.
Outside the courthouse, Silver was followed by reporters and photographers. “I believe justice will prevail,’’ Silver said, of his new trial.