High Court Hears Ex-Enron CEO Skilling's Appeal

By: Mark Sherman AP Email
By: Mark Sherman AP Email

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court appeared troubled Monday by the selection of the jury that convicted former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling as well as the use of a federal fraud law against him.

Several justices appeared receptive to arguments by Skilling's lawyer that he did not have a fair trial in Houston, Enron's hometown, following the energy company's 2001 collapse that cost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.

Amid concern that the trial judge spent too little time questioning prospective jurors, Justice Stephen Breyer said, "I'm worried about a fair trial in this instance."

Skilling was convicted in 2006 on 19 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors. His lawyers are hoping for a new trial.

He also is contesting his conviction under the federal fraud law making it a crime to deprive shareholders or the public of "the intangible right to honest services."

Critics say the law is vague and unfair.

Justice Antonin Scalia, the court's most vocal critic of the law, said it sounds to him as though the law says, "It's a crime to do any bad thing."

But Justice Department lawyer Michael Dreeben said that Skilling betrayed the trust of Enron shareholders by lying about the health of the company and also selling a half-million shares and netting $15 million just a few months before Enron fell into bankruptcy.

Skilling "misused his official position," Dreeben said.

Skilling's case is one of three before the court that raise questions about the "honest services" fraud law. The other defendants are former newspaper magnate Conrad Black and former Alaska state lawmaker Bruce Weyhrauch.


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