NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned the conviction of Sheldon Silver, the former New York state assembly speaker, saying the jury was instructed improperly in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning corruption prosecutions.
But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan also said federal prosecutors had presented "sufficient" evidence to prove the honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering counts on which Silver was convicted in November 2015.
That could pave the way for a possible retrial of Silver, 73, who has been free on bail during the appeal.
A spokesman for Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan declined immediate comment. Silver's lawyer Steven Molo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Once among New York's most powerful politicians, Silver was accused of collecting close to $4 million of illegal fees for awarding state grants to a prominent cancer researcher, and steering two real estate developers to a friend's law firm and supporting their interests on rent legislation.
Silver, a Democrat, had represented Manhattan's Lower East Side and was assembly speaker from 1994 to 2015.
Seven months after Silver's conviction, however, the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2016 voided the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, saying routine political activities such as arranging meetings or reaching out to public officials were not "official acts."
In Thursday's decision, Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes said the McDonnell holding tainted the instructions Silver's jury had been given, through no fault of prosecutors or the trial judge.
Cabranes said that while "many would view the facts adduced at Silver's trial with distaste," it was not clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a properly instructed jury would have convicted Silver.
The case was returned to the trial court for further proceedings.
The case is U.S. v. Silver, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-1615.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bernadette Baum)