ALBANY – A federal judge has modified, somewhat, a question involving Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that prospective jurors in the upcoming Buffalo Billion corruption trial will be asked when prosecutors and defense lawyers try to put together a jury.
The issue came to light in a recent letter from a defense lawyer to U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni in which concerns were raised about the “strong views” New Yorkers have about Cuomo that could affect jurors’ perceptions of the defendants.
A proposed juror questionnaire – which jury pool members will fill out in advance of the trial next month – had this as Question 12: “Do you have any opinion of Governor Cuomo that might affect your ability to be a fair and impartial juror in a case in involving his associates or friends?”
“As confirmed by a quick review of current media coverage, citizens of New York tend to have strong views about Governor Cuomo and his administration," Michael C. Miller, a lawyer with Manhattan’s Steptoe & Johnson, wrote to Caproni on May 23.
Miller submitted his request on behalf of Louis Ciminelli and Michael Laipple, formerly top executives with Buffalo’s LPCiminelli, Syracuse developer Stephen Aiello and Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany. The four men – along with Syracuse development official Joseph Gerardi – are due to go on trial June 11 for their alleged roles in a bid-rigging scheme involving state projects in Buffalo and Syracuse, including the big government solar plant investment at RiverBend.
Miller cited three recent articles critical of Cuomo that were published in May by the Atlantic, Daily Kos and the New York Post.
“The evidence at trial will show that Dr. Kaloyeros worked closely on Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion project and had direct interactions with the governor," Miller wrote of the former top SUNY official who Cuomo assigned to oversee several of his signature upstate economic development projects.
Ciminelli, Aiello and Gerardi “also had direct and/or indirect interactions with the Governor," Miller added.
“Any juror biased against Governor Cuomo is likely to distrust Dr. Kaloyeros, Mr. Ciminelli, Mr. Aiello and Mr. Gerardi," the defense lawyer wrote the judge in arguing that the proposed question to the jury be eliminated.
Miller added that “the modifier requiring an effect on the ability of the juror to be fair and impartial will ensure that only those jurors likely to harbor meaningful bias respond.’’
The final juror questionnaire, released by the judge on Tuesday, did not delete the question. But it was modified to this: “Do you have any strong opinions about government officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, or anyone who works in state government that might make it difficult for you to be a fair and impartial juror in this case?"