Enron trial won’t be about revenge or sympathy, judge says | VailDaily.com

Enron trial won’t be about revenge or sympathy, judge says

Daily Staff Report

HOUSTON – Before the opening statements, before the first of dozens of witnesses is called to the stand, a federal judge calmly spelled out for an audience of about 100 people what the trial of two former Enron Corp. chief executives will not be about.It will not, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake told potential jurors, be a forum for anyone who wants to strike a blow for justice and “right the wrongs” of the accounting scandal that came to symbolize an era of corporate chicanery.It will not, he said, be about sympathy for the thousands of people who lost their jobs, and in many cases their retirement savings, in the energy giant’s collapse.And, the judge said, it certainly will not be about pretending none of the jury pool has seen, read or heard any of the practically unavoidable publicity that has surrounded the approach of the trial.”All of us has been exposed to substantial media attention from this case,” Lake said Monday before he and lawyers for the prosecution, Lay and Skilling began questioning individual jurors, ultimately settling on a panel of eight women and four men to hear the case.That jury will be asked to decide whether Lay and Skilling orchestrated the accounting scheme that sank Enron in hopes of keeping its credit rating and stock price high – and their own pockets well-lined. Opening statements were set for Tuesday morning.Lake told potential jurors they would not be expected to “blot out” news reports they have already absorbed about the trial. But he made clear he expected the jurors to judge the case only on the evidence they see over what could be the next four months.”We are not looking for people who want to right a wrong or provide remedies for those who suffered in the collapse of Enron,” said Lake, an even-tempered judge who speaks with a Texas twang.Lake has repeatedly turned away defense attempts to have the trial moved out of Houston on grounds the jury pool here was hopelessly tainted by news coverage of the Enron scandal.And so Lay, 63, and Skilling, 52, found themselves standing in an 11th-floor courtroom mere blocks from what once was Enron headquarters in downtown Houston, rising when their names were called in the morning and facing the potential jurors.Lay, the Enron founder who returned as CEO briefly in late 2001 before the company went under, would answer only, “Fine, how are you?” when a reporter asked him outside court how he was feeling.Skilling, who faces 31 criminal counts to Lay’s seven, declined to comment as he headed into court.Inside, the judge briefly introduced the case to the potential jurors, then asked whether anyone would have a problem presuming the defendants innocent and judging the case without bias.Three hands went up – those of two men and a woman. The judge questioned them individually at the bench, and none of them was chosen for the final jury.Another potential juror, a 20-year-old man, raised his hand later in response to a question from the judge about religious and philosophical beliefs, and said he did not think he could judge anyone.”Everybody here at least at one point in their time has been falsely accused of something, whether it was their parents or a coworker or something,” the man said. He said his grandmother had taught him never to judge others.”That’s certainly a good maxim to follow in church,” Lake answered. But he said in court, “It’s not a moral judgment, it’s a legal judgment.” The 20-year-old was not selected for the jury.Lay and Skilling spent the day at separate tables, in seats that faced each other, remaining mostly silent, occasionally flipping through papers or conferring with their lawyers.The judge also read a long list of potential witnesses in the trial, including Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. and at least two ministers. Scattered jurors recognized some of the names, but all assured the judge they could hear the case impartially despite their connections.Enron’s crash and the subsequent scandals roiled Wall Street, sent investors fleeing, prompted stiffened white collar penalties and raised regulatory scrutiny over publicly traded companies that spawned a slew of high-profile cases.In the years since the Enron bankruptcy, the government has won convictions against Martha Stewart and other executives from companies such as WorldCom Inc. and Adelphia Communications Corp. A rare exception was HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy, who was acquitted on fraud charges last year, even after five former finance chiefs implicated him in an earnings-boosting scheme.Vail, Colorado

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