A suspended New York City judge was acquitted Thursday of campaign finance charges that have kept her from taking the seat she won more than a year ago, but it wasn't immediately clear whether she would fill the post.
Nora Anderson sobbed with relief as a Manhattan jury cleared her and her biggest backer of hiding the source of $250,000 in campaign cash that revived her struggling bid to get on the bench. Anderson, a Democrat, left the courthouse beaming and saying only, "I'm very happy."
Anderson won an underdog race in 2008 for a judgeship overseeing wills, trusts and adoptions. She was indicted and suspended with pay from the $137,600-a-year job shortly before she was to start her duties.
Prosecutors said she and her chief contributor and former boss, estates lawyer Seth Rubenstein, had cloaked campaign gifts and loans from him as coming from her own money so they could evade contribution limits. Anderson and Rubenstein said the money was indeed Anderson's and denied misleading anyone about it.
"Justice triumphed," Anderson lawyer Gustave Newman said after the verdict was delivered.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said he respected the jury's decision in a case about laws "designed to ensure transparency and fairness in our political process."
The state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, suspended Anderson in December 2008 until the campaign finance charges were resolved. Her lawyers and court-system officials didn't have immediate information Thursday on the process by which she might seek reinstatement.
With Anderson's campaign coffers running dry as the crucial Democratic primary approached, Rubenstein gave her $100,000 and loaned $150,000 to her personal accounts in August 2008. Anderson then transferred the money to her campaign, which reported it as a gift and loan from her.
Prosecutors said the arrangement was intended to skirt state campaign contribution limits — they don't apply to candidates' own money — and scrutiny of Rubenstein's financial influence in her campaign.
The case "goes to the heart of our election and our judicial systems," Assistant District Attorney Daniel G. Cort told jurors in closing arguments Tuesday. "Candidates shouldn't benefit just because they have wealthy friends who are willing to buy elections."
State election law bars directly or indirectly donating to a candidate — or recording a gift — in any name but the contributor's own.
Defense lawyers said the money became Anderson's when it was given and loaned to her, though they acknowledged Rubenstein expected she would use it for her judicial race. The defense attorneys also said that campaign workers were in charge of deciding how to report the money, and that election officials' guidance on the subject was murky.
"Not only have I shown to you that the reports are true, but there is no evidence to indicate that Nora Anderson knew, even — even — if the documents had been false," Newman told jurors in his summation.
The money paid for a blitz of campaign literature, phone calls and primary election day workers, helping Anderson take the three-way primary with about 48 percent of the vote. She was uncontested in the general election.
Both Anderson, 57, and Rubenstein, 82, were charged with offering a false instrument for filing.
As a Surrogate's Court judge, Anderson could appoint lawyers to sometimes lucrative posts overseeing wills and trusts. But Rubenstein's lawyer bristled at prosecutors' implication that the longtime estates lawyer might have hoped to benefit from having her on the bench.
"What is the district attorney trying to suggest? That after five and a half decades of practice before the Surrogate's Court, as a successful practitioner, that he's trying to slip some money under the table for, what, the next 15 years of his practice? It is a ludicrous suggestion," attorney Frederick Hafetz told jurors Tuesday.