By Rich Bockmann
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and Vince Tabone, the former vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party, are both asking that their federal corruption trial be delayed until later this year, arguing the proceedings could possibly coincide with this year’s elections.
Smith, who was rounded up by the FBI last year along with Tabone and then-City Councilman Dan Halloran on charges they conspired to buy the Albany lawmaker’s way into the mayoral race on the GOP ticket, asked Westchester Federal Judge Kenneth Karas to delay the June trial until Oct. 14 since the state Legislature is considering moving the primary from September to June.
“[A] trial beginning in June, July or August, even one resulting in a full acquittal on all charges, as we expect, would unquestionably result in prejudicial pre-election publicity that would jeopardize Senator Smith’s right to run for public office,” Smith’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, wrote to the judge earlier this month.
Smith is seeking re-election and already has several contenders lined up.
Federal prosecutors oppose the motion, saying the senator is merely speculating that an election could be scheduled around the time of his trial.
“Here, Smith does not claim that a failure to delay the trial will in any way impact his ability to defend himself,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, of the Southern District, wrote. “And he cannot — the basis for his delay is the mere possibility that an election in which he intends to participate may be scheduled at some point around the trial date.”
In a separate request Tabone argued that a trial scheduled for June could coincide with state primaries, which Albany lawmakers are considering moving up from September.
Such a trial “would clearly interfere with the conduct and potentially the result of both federal and state elections in New York by unfairly subjecting New York Republican Party officials and the party agenda to scrutiny, but not similarly situated Democratic Party officials and their party agenda,” Tabone’s lawyer, Deborah Misir, wrote to Karas, a Republican appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2003.
There are no Republican state or federal lawmakers from Queens currently holding office, and it does not yet appear any GOP candidates will take a serious shot at Democratic incumbents. There are, however, statewide races for governor and attorney general as well as contests for the state Senate, state Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives outside Queens that the county party could throw its weight behind.
Hauling Republican officials into court and asking them to testify could expose GOP strategy that might hinder their efforts, Tabone contended.
“The necessary witnesses to such a trial may include the Republican Party chairmen of the state and county Republican Party committees in New York. Subjecting the Republican Party, its officials and internal political strategies to intense scrutiny, while sparing the Democratic Party would unfairly undermine Republican Party candidates in the general election,” his attorney wrote.
“In short, it could devolve into a political circus aimed at the Republican Party and its federal and state candidates,” Misir added.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.