By Basil Katz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - There is insufficient evidence against former New York Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to allow for a second trial against him, Bruno's lawyer told a U.S. appeals court on Friday.
Bruno, 82, was sentenced to two years in prison last May by a federal judge in Albany after being convicted on two corruption charges.
For decades, Bruno was one of the state's most powerful Republicans, and one of the three most important politicians in the state, along with the governor and speaker.
The senate leader's conviction was almost immediately put into question after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that the "honest services" law that Bruno was convicted of breaking was too vague to be constitutional.
New York state's government has suffered a series of corruption scandals in recent years. The current governor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, has tried to banish corruption with a new ethics bill though its critics say it is flawed.
On Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe told the three-judge panel at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Bruno should be re-tried based on a fresh indictment, agreeing with the defense that his conviction on the two counts should be tossed in light of the Supreme court decision.
"The appropriate remedy here is remand," Coombe said, adding "we believe that the evidence is sufficient."
Bruno's lawyer, however, argued against any new trial and said the government should be stopped from bringing a new indictment because they had insufficient evidence.
"The only grounds on which the case cannot be re-brought is on sufficiency grounds," lawyer Abbe Lowell told the judges.
Lowell, who once helped former U.S. President Bill Clinton defend against impeachment proceedings, seemed to earn the sympathy of Judge Barrington Parker, one of the three judges.
"You have a 30-page kitchen sink indictment with facts about this and facts about that," Parker said, grilling prosecutor Coombe.
"You took direction A and it failed, and now you want to shift gears and put this man through another six-week horrendous experience of a criminal trial?"
"I do not think it is unfair to Senator Bruno," Coombe responded.
The judges will issue a ruling in the coming weeks.
Bruno was charged with eight counts, including mail and wire fraud, linked to his obtaining brokerage business for unions and failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments and gifts. Many of the indictment's charges alleged that Bruno exploited his powerful public position for personal gain, depriving the state of his "honest services."
The case is U.S. v Joseph Bruno, U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 09-291.
For Bruno: Abbe Lowell of Chadbourne and Parke LLP
For the government: Elizabeth Coombe of the U.S. Attorney's
Office for the Northern District of New York.
(Additional writing by Joan Gralla)
(Reporting by Basil Katz)