Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Houston will host Enron trials

Enron founder Ken Lay is led into Federal Court by law enforcment officers in Houston last summer. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

HOUSTON — Enron Corp.’s top leaders will all be tried in Houston on criminal charges connected to the scandal-ridden company’s 2001 collapse, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake’s decision denies claims from company founder Kenneth Lay, former CEO Jeff Skilling and former top accountant Richard Causey that they couldn’t get a fair trial on their home turf.

“Although news coverage about Enron’s collapse, this case, and these defendants has been extensive, the court is not persuaded that it has been so inflammatory or pervasive as to create a presumption that there exists a reasonable likelihood that pretrial publicity will prevent a fair trial,” Lake wrote in a 24-page opinion.

All three have pleaded not guilty. Lake has not scheduled trial dates for any of the three.

Lawyers for the trio had contended widespread media coverage of Enron’s collapse made it difficult to find unbiased jurors in the Houston area to hear the case.

Skilling made the initial request to have the trial moved, citing a survey of local residents conducted on his behalf that said too many potential jurors associate his name with words like “snake” and “evil.” Alternate sites suggested were Atlanta, Denver, New Orleans or Phoenix.

Prosecutors responded that two Houston-area juries already had considered Enron-related cases and returned reasonable verdicts.

Lake said notoriety alone is not enough reason to change venues.

“The court is not persuaded that there exists a reasonable likelihood that the court will be unable to impanel an impartial jury despite widespread knowledge of the case,” Lake wrote.

Lake also denied a motion by attorneys for Skilling and Causey to hold a hearing on the issue.

“All we want is a fair trial, nothing more, nothing less,” Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling’s lead trial lawyer, said Wednesday. “If that is to happen in Houston, hopefully we will have substantial latitude in selecting our jury.”

Andrew Weissmann, head of the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force, had no comment on Lake’s ruling. Attorneys for Lay and Causey did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.

Skilling and Causey each face more than 30 counts of fraud, conspiracy and other charges for allegedly participating in or knowing about various schemes to fool investors into believing Enron was healthy in the years leading to its collapse.