' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Sheldon Silver: A blockage to unsealing OBCs in New York is convicted

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sheldon Silver: A blockage to unsealing OBCs in New York is convicted

Sheldon Silver convicted of corruption
One of the main blockages to freeing up sealed birth certificates in New York has been convicted of federal corruption charges. Sheldon Silver, who held a viselike grip on the New York Assembly, was found guilty this afternoon of seven counts of federal corruption charges, ending a trial "that was the capstone of the government's efforts to expose the seamy culture of influence-peddling in Albany," according to The New York Times.

Silver, 71, was elected to his seat in Albany from lower Manhattan nearly 40 years ago. While we had enough votes to get a clean bill (or so we thought) to unseal birth certificates
passed, the process would always come to a dead halt if and when our bill got to the final committee before coming out on the floor, the Conference Committee. There our bill would get shot down last year, boom boom boom, come back near year.
Lorraine testifying at Assembly hearing, 2014

Silver (D, Manhattan) was convicted of honest-services fraud, extortion and money laundering stemming from schemes by which he profited by $4 million in exchange for directing people to a certain law firm and helping two real estate developers. One of the beneficiaries was a cancer researcher who apparently did not understand the quid pro quo  going on, or chose to remain oblivious. In any event, he was among those testified for the prosecution. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is the determined champion who shepherded this case to trial, though he did not personally try it.

Over the years--decades--that I have lobbied the New York legislature to undo the sealed records statutes here that were passed in the 1930s, Silver has been a stumbling block. Several times I would write him an impassioned letter, he would write back in polite legalese, say nothing definitive, and we would get nowhere. Unsealed Initiative once rallied in front of his apartment building. Finally, about a year ago, someone in Albany suggested to Unsealed Initiative that we hire a certain lobby and law firm. Of course we never had the money to bribe "Shelly" as he is known, which is what it appears the suggestion amounted to.

Meanwhile, over in the New York Senate, Silver's former counterpart, State Senator Dean Skelos of Long Island (R, Nassau County), who served as Senate majority leader, is also being tried on federal corruption charges of getting no-show jobs for his adopted son, Adam. Skelos has also been opposed to unsealing birth certificates. His trial is entering his third week.

Interestingly, the Times--even in a profile of Skelos--did not mention that his son was adopted. When
Image for the news result
I contacted a Times writer and told him what appeared to be an amazing factoid to him, he reported a few days later that his sources couldn't get that fact verified. I attribute this to the lack of staff that is stationed in Albany, unlike the three reporters who were there during the session when I worked on an Albany newspaper in the late Sixties, as well as a dozen or so other reporters from media outlets all over the state who covered the legislature then.

However, in the middle of a long story on Skelos in the Times a month or so later, was the fact that the defense wanted to introduce that Adam was adopted. One can only assume this was to build sympathy for Skelos and Adam. The only way I can see doing that is to imply that since Adam was adopted, he was troubled from the get-go, and needed special help!

Well, how about giving Adam the right to have his birth certificate?

Back to Silver.  In previous years he has been roundly criticized for his handling of two sexual harassment allegations--that is, he buried them.

He did not take the stand and presented no defense at all at the trial. His lawyers asked that all charges be dropped, and after the guilty verdict was announced this afternoon, said they would be filing "vigorous post-trial motions seeking to set it aside." Let's hope the judge didn't make any technical mistakes. When I tried to find Silver's Assembly page this evening, it was gone: "Not found." It was as if the man, who once was one of the "three men in a room" who controlled Albany and what happened in New York State, never existed. The other two men: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and recently, Dean Skelos, after the departure of Joe Bruno, who, as Senate majority leader for 14  years, maintained an iron grip on what happened in the New York Senate. He resigned from the Senate in 2008; five months later he was indicted.

Bruno was convicted of two counts of mail and wire fraud. A sympathetic jury acquitted him of five other felonies, but hung on two counts. His convictions were subsequently overturned on appeal, and ultimately the charges were dismissed. Do I think he was guilty of mail and wire fraud? Yes. He just got away with it and didn't have to go to jail.

Bruno is an adoptive father also, and also stone-walled on unsealing birth certificates.

The more you know about how politics operates the more you realize that much gets done because of who you know. I'm rooting that David Weprin (D, Queens), the champion of our open-records bill, is in the running to replace Silver. Of course, he will still have to maneuver around Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D, Brooklyn), whose opposition is so fierce that she is almost certainly "protecting" someone from their adopted child, possibly herself. Weinstein's dogged determination to not keep the records sealed--when she is otherwise a liberal--bespeaks of a personal interest.

It's not nice to rejoice when bad things happen even to bad people, but in this case a bucket of schadenfreude is allowed, don't ya think? "Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last so did the people of New York," said Bharara.  I'm one of those people, and I'm going to bed happy tonight. --lorraine

Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Is Found Guilty on All Counts
Dean Skelos acted as his son's personal assistant and gave him inside info 

"In this brilliantly crafted and compelling memoir, Dusky covers all perspectives: her own grief and pain as a first mother, her daughter's anger and longing, and the adoptive parents' fears...I was equally astounded by her ability to flawlessly weave in facts about adoption practices over the years, the impact of adoption on both adoptees and birth mothers, and the lack of progress to unseal records."
--Denise Roessle, author of Second-Chance Mother, Adoption Today Magazine

to order anything, please click on book jacket or title to go to amazon...and thanks to all of you who do! 


  1. Yes! schadenfreude is in order! ;-)

    Forty years. Crazy that there are no term limits.

    This detail leapt out at me from the NYT article, "His lawyers then guided him through the crowd and into a waiting black sedan." Why are the guilty allowed to walk free? Why isn't HE sitting in Rikers until sentencing?

  2. With the crackdown on corruption, and the villains put in prison, let us hope that New York adopted persons can finally succeed in passing legislation that will totally unseal and certify our actual birth certificates. We also need to work toward legislation that will stop the proliferation of amended - falsified - birth certificates upon adoption. An honest adoption certificate, with the certified actual birth certificate would be the best solution to the crimes of identity theft and re-assignment committed against all adopted persons.

  3. If you have participated in grass-roots lobbying for access-to-original-birth-certificates legislation in your state, you will know the power of the speaker of the Assembly (House) and the president of the Senate.

    One reason that NJ efforts took 34 years before enactment of legislation is that speakers of the Assembly held up the bills' (new ones were introduced in every 2-year session) progress for a discouraging number of years.

    How do they do this? The speaker of the Assembly and president of the Senate have enormous power. S/He can stall a bill from assignment to a committee (I have not heard of this happening), pressure committee chairs not to hold a hearing on a bill, and if a bill is heard and then released from committee, the final stalling tactic is to refuse to allow it to be posted for a vote by the full legislative body, either senate or assembly (house)

  4. Politicians are all criminals. No wonder the idiot lawmakers in this country closed adoption records. THAT is the biggest crime in the history of this country.

    1. Don;t agree that Thomas Jefferson and all politicians thereafter are criminals. Fred Thiele and David Weprin in the NY Assesmbly are trying to do the right thing. Blanket statements like do no good. There are a few bad apples and they get all the publicity. The records were sealed in a different time with different attitudes--largely, I think, to make sure that natural mothers couldn't come around and bother the family. They were sealed state by state--but not in all states... Go Kansas!

    2. I would think birth certificates were also sealed to protect the child from the stigma of 'illegitimacy', which could have a very real and damaging effect in bygone eras. Although it is a crime against humanity to also and forever seal the OBC from the person who is named on it.

    3. Another reason birth certificates were sealed, according to Prof Elizabeth Samuels, was to prevent adoptees from searching for their first families. When states began issuing amended birth certificates in the 1920's,they allowed adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates. A few like New York sealed records in the 1930's. However, sealing records didn't take off until the 1950's when adoptees began searching.

    4. Many surrender papers from the 50s, 60s and 70s specifically mention that the birth mother was not to search for or have any contact with the adoptive family or child. None of them mention giving the birthmother anonymity from her child, as per Elizabeth Samuel's extensive collection of surrender papers from all over the US. So who was being protected?

    5. Nope, they were closed so Lehman could protect Georgia Tann and perhaps himself because the baby he adopted from her was stolen. You will notice also that when Tann got busted in 1950 THAT is when other states closed adoption records too. Except for some Republican states like Kansas and Alabama. Closed adoption is an evil Democratic invention.

    6. "However, sealing records didn't take off until the 1950's when adoptees began searching. "

      I also doubt it's a coincidence that the record sealing took off at the same time the number of children being given up for adoption was increasing dramatically, too.

    7. Correct, Robin. Adoptive parents were in charge and the idea of search and thus reunion was challenging the very core of their belief system about the
      fortunate" children they adopted.

    8. If closed adoption is a "Democratic invention" how come it is largely Republican legislatures who keep them sealed? As an example, the group lobbying for unsealing records in Michigan has basically stopped operating while the Republicans are in control of the governor's mansion and the legislature. They have simply given up under Republican leadership. Sealed records is a crime that belongs to both parties.

    9. Lorraine wrote:" the very core of their belief system about the
      fortunate" children they adopted."

      And a big part of that core belief was not only that we were 'fortunate' but that we were the child of, and ONLY the child of, the adoptive parents. And that our first parents were basically meaningless (Hardly!). But all of this fed into the closed adoption system, amended birth certificates, etc.

  5. "Biggest crime in the history of this country"?? Bit o' hyperbole there, eh? Sealed records are a bad law whose time will eventually end like other bad laws, but there have been worse. Slavery was legal, segregation was enforced by law, birth control was illegal, women could not vote in the US until 1920, homosexuality was illegal, mixed race marriage was illegal, dangerous child labor was legal, a blind eye was turned by the law on lynchings of black men in the south, Asian-Americans were imprisoned by our government in internment camps during WWII. I could go on but you get the idea, bad but not the worst. As to politicians, not my favorite folks, but not all of them are crooks, and many of them have bravely stood up for those oppressed, including supporting adoptee rights.

  6. Off topic, but this article is yet another that makes one think of all the implications - physical, emotional, social, familial, surrounding avenues that we casually make available to provide desiring parents with a baby:


    1. Thanks for the link, JAY. I hope women considering being an egg donor see it as well as other articlles calling into question the safety of donating eggs.

    2. You're welcome. While this article emphasized the health aspect, I couldn't help but be struck by the woman's mother saying to her, when she found out about her egg donation plans, that she was "selling her grandchildren." Surrogacy, egg donation, adoption, all of this impacts so many family members in addition to setting children adrift and abandoned in a sea of confused identity through random placement.

  7. Georgia Tann got the ball rolling in Tenessee, but things were going in that direction anyway, for all the reasons others here have given. However, as Mary Anne pointed out, anonymity for the mother was never one of them. Closed adoption records are SO not about the birth mother.

  8. Intellectually, rhetorically, adoption is on a par with slavery, even if it does not usually have the corporal punishment and total physical imprisonment of humans. But in the lifelong lasting hold on humans it is the same.

    "Sealed birth records of any kind, with any restrictions that apply to the person whose record it is, codify the same kind of appalling thinking that allowed slavery to flourish in centuries past.

    "Other than slavery, there is no instance in which a contract made among adults over another individual binds him once he becomes an adult. It takes from him full autonomy as a free person; it makes him subject to the whims and preferences of another, and it does so indefinitely and for all time. Anything other than full autonomy—which surely includes the right to know who one was at birth—is wrong morally, wrong legally, wrong anyway it can be interpreted.

    "Courts in the past have held —and unquestionably courts in the future will find—that the mother has no constitutional right to remain anonymous from her child, and thus the state has no obligation to keep her identity secret from her offspring."

    --From hole in my heart , Fact & Commentary, IV Sealed Birth Certificate Laws

    1. My son is reading the book, "If you lived when there was slavery in America." Here is a quote from it:

      "Imagine if someone could take your mom or dad away any time they wanted.
      Imagine losing your brother or sister, and maybe never seeing them again.
      Imagine if you were sold away from your family.
      That's how terrible slavery was."

      And a quote from a slave:

      "Children were separated from sisters and brothers and never saw one another again. Of course they cried. You think they didn't cry when they were sold like cattle? I could tell you about it all day, but even then you couldn't guess the awfulness of it."

      Brought me to tears - and I wasn't even thinking about slavery.

  9. Sometimes hard words about something that is so wrong is the only way that some people can see through to the heart of the matter. Some feel that making the connection is wrong and even harmful, but softening the issue by obfuscating reality leads to inaction--and does not change minds anyway. It just dithers away energy.

    I'm reading "The Invention of Wings," a novel about the famous abolitionist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. Many thought they were too radical for the times (early 1800s, before the Civil War) but it is they who helped moved minds forward, not those who told them "it was not the right time," that they ought to shut up and go about it somehow more politely. We can be courteous but adoption rights will not get anywhere unless people speak up with force.

    1. We can be loud and proud about adoptee rights, and about the awful abuses that have happened and are still happening in adoption practice without equating adoption with anything else. The abuses in adoption stand alone and are bad enough graphically described all by themselves; we all have been there and can speak from experience. No need to be courteous about our own suffering, analogies to other injustices not needed, at least that is how I see it.

    2. And sometimes you need a bracing metaphor to make people see injustice.

    3. I absolutely love the slavery metaphor. It came to me organically when I came out of the fog. I was just contemplating, like I did for hours on end, when I was new to reunion and it came to me.
      People that didn't own slaves fought for slave owners. People that don't adopt fight for adopters. Not to say that all adopters can be correlated to slave owners - but there were really great slave owners back in the day!!

    4. Barb wrote:"Not all adopters can be correlated with slave owners, but there were great slave owners back in the day".. There are no words to respond to that statement. I am speechless. Gobsmacked, as the Brits say.

    5. Barb, metaphors can arrive "organically"?
      Please explain.

  10. just call me oscar(ette)December 5, 2015 at 9:40 PM

    Maryanne, I guess it's all a matter of perspective and experience. When you are violently, by force, no choice, drugging / being tied down = powerless and separated from your child / your mother / family as an adoptee. Or are of the generations after and have absolutely no way, no "right", no choice in finding who your people are and your treated -as if- you are not worth the same as other people but as a possession or property owned for the rest of your generations, then yeah, it can feel like slavery. This horrid practice does provide a very excellent means for empathy toward those who came from the generations of slavery and what all that family separation meant and how it can hurt even generations later.

    1. The "adoption = slavery" trope, taken to its logical conclusion, would also mean that any first mother who has had any degree of voluntariness in trading away her child, is the moral equivalent of a slaver.

  11. just call me oscar(ette)December 5, 2015 at 10:05 PM

    How's this for an analogy to another injustice?

    A small child sits frightened in her bed. Hands over her ears trying so hard to drown out the angry, explosive voices and breaking of dishes and crashing, a thud... then silence...and terror takes hold. Are they dead? Are you next? Where's mommy?

    Would you sit a small child down in the middle of a war zone? Would you put a small child in the center of an active battlefield with grenades violently exploding, and bullets whizzing past? Would you? What do we do when we make our homes a war zone? A battlefield? One or more angry combatants or an angry combatant and one who is the target of that anger. Those "grenades" and "bullets" do not always create the grizzly physical wounds that do occur on a battlefield, but the affects to the mind and spirit are AS damaging if not more so, due to the age and lack of ability to protect and defend of the so-called "collateral damage".

    If we don't compare things, even seeing the similarities between a beginning of one war to previous wars........ we continue to make the same serious errors over and over again.

    I don't know Maryanne, does the analogy work? or not?

  12. Oscarette,since you ask, no, that analogy does not work, and I am not even sure what you are getting at. Domestic violence is its own terrible thing, and certainly emotionally damages children. War is something else altogether, a much greater societal evil that inflicts actual injury and death on men, women, and children. Both are horrible evils, but they are not the same horrible evil, and to compare them this way does not enlighten, it confuses and sometimes trivializes individual suffering. Yes, the children of refugees now fleeing war and destruction in Syria, to name the latest atrocity, will certainly be traumatized, as were the childhood victims of the Holocaust, and childhood victims of domestic violence can be traumatized, but there the similarities end."One of these things is not like the other" as the Sesame Street song said.

    Each horror must be confronted and seen for what it is, and dealt with in its own particulars, not compared to other things. Analogies are not always the best way to explain things. Sometimes just describing what is happening in each instance in plain clear terms works much better, is more honest, and more easily understood by those not involved but trying to comprehend.

  13. just call me oscar(ette)December 6, 2015 at 10:18 PM

    "a much greater societal evil..." I do not agree. I see them in the same vein. Is one family 'tearing itself to bits' less important or less damaged or any different than a family that has grown into a nation or nations? I don't think so. One covers more area than the other and more people are aware of the larger conflict... and frightened by it.

    Whether it is war in the home or war on a battlefield, it is all the same to me. People die in domestic violence. Children often die due to domestic violence. I look at what is going on around the world and all the suffering caused by conflicts/wars. It's all horrible. I feel you are minimizing the effects of war in the home on the victims. I find that sad. Maybe if we learned how to heal the wounded (which, the ones that rage, often are wounded)and stop the wars that rage in individual homes, maybe the world could cease ALL wars. We'll just agree to disagree.

    Just so you understand the comparison. Mommy never came back. That 'war' was the last her voice was heard. She died.

  14. Comments Closed unless it relates to legislation.

  15. RE: Legislation:
    As Lorraine, decades ago and for many years I, (as a happily reunited first mother who was able to give her daughter her own original birth certificate) lobbied vigorously.
    I can personally attest to the fact that Shelly (yes, I called him that!) blocked our efforts for open records.
    As a Vice Chair of the Liberal Party of New York State, each year that he ran for re-election, as I sat on the interviewing committee, I would ask him (as I did with all candidates) his opinion of open records, etc.
    And the following two specific situations stand out so vividly in my memory:
    1) After many years, perhaps 20 years ago, while sitting at a conference table and interviewing him with approximately 12 colleagues, he looked right at me, held up his hand and lied straight to my face as he said something to the effect, “don’t even ask …it’s going to be”!
    2) Famous last words for soon after, when lobbying in Albany and walking with a group through the legislative building, I met the prime sponsor, Scot Stringer and one of the co-sponsors, Richard Gottfried just as they were returning from – as they said “walking the bill directly to Silver’s office” - and they were abashed that his legislative point person told them it was a no go and out of her hands.
    While I haven’t physically lobbied in Albany for many years, I have kept abreast and active in other ways and, once we were fortunate enough that the legislation was transferred from staunch opponent, Helene Weinstein’s Judiciary into
    I don’t know why but, even with so many co and multi-sponsors, some months ago the bill was abominably gutted, so, sadly, even with Sheldon Silver thankfully gone it things look quite dark again!



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