The first criminal trial of former Enron executives, scheduled to start soon in Houston, will test jurors’ reactions to more than two years of nonstop negative publicity about the the hometown corporate giant, says the Washington Post. Observers wonder whether Houston-area jurors can hear the evidence with an open mind when the company’s bankruptcy in late 2001 cost thousands of area residents their jobs and retirement savings. Along the way, Enron became a one-word shorthand for an era of corporate greed.
The defendants, Daniel O. Boyle and Sheila K. Kahanek, were not senior executives, and their case involves interactions with four former Merrill Lynch & Co. officials in what prosecutors say were bogus deals hatched to help Enron meet profit targets in 1999. The trial, with jury selection set to begin June 7, may be most intriguing as a precursor for the prosecutions of Enron’s top leaders in the coming months.
“Getting a jury to give these guys a presumption of innocence is going to be a herculean task,” said lawyer Rusty Hardin, who defended accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP on obstruction-of-justice charges in its work for Enron in a 2002 trial in Houston. “I’ve never seen jurors as aware and possessed of opinions as in the Andersen case. People would stand up and express their opinions about Enron and they would be literally shaking.” Since that time, even more damaging information about Enron has come out.
Said Jeffrey T. Frederick of the National Legal Research Group in Charlottesville, “In this particular case, you have to watch out for what’s commonly called a stealth juror . . . someone who’s going in there with an agenda.”