Tags: Jury | Chosen | for | Andersen | Trial

Jury Chosen for Andersen Trial

Monday, 06 May 2002 12:00 AM

U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon told the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates to keep an open mind and not read news media accounts of the trial, talk about the case or do any independent research.

The jurors, nine women and seven men, will receive further instructions from the judge this morning before attorneys make opening statements and the first witnesses are called.

Andersen is charged with obstruction of justice in the first criminal trial to come out of Enron's collapse. Andersen, once the fourth-largest accounting firm in the nation, was the chief auditor for Enron before it filed for bankruptcy in December.

The government plans to call 60 witnesses during the trial, which may last four weeks.

Attorneys questioned more than 100 prospective jurors as they tried to seat a jury for the first criminal trial to come out of Enron's collapse. Andersen was the chief auditor for Enron before it filed for bankruptcy in December.

During questioning, prosecutor Matt Friedrich found that 23 of the prospective jurors had family members who were accountants. He also discovered that 19 of them had friends or relatives who work or had worked for Enron.

Friedrich asked if any of them had ever been asked at work to shred documents to keep them from police. None of the potential jurors acknowledged doing that. The question irritated Andersen attorney Rusty Hardin.

"When you throw that skunk into the jury box it's hard to take it out," he said when it came his time to question the panel.

During his questioning, Hardin asked the potential jurors if they were angry about "the Enron matter." Ten said they were, and three of those said it would affect their impartiality in trying to render a verdict.

"It's affected the lives of a lot of young people that I work with," said one prospective juror.

Another said she was bothered by the "executive greed."

The Enron bankruptcy resulted in more than 4,000 employees losing their jobs, and in most cases all their retirement savings. The collapse of the energy trading company became the focus of several federal investigations.

In this case, Andersen is charged with shredding critical documents after Enron informed the accounting firm of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.

The Justice Department alleged that "tons" of documents were destroyed in the widespread shredding operation, largely carried out in the Houston office but also in Andersen offices in Chicago, Portland, Ore., and London.

"Instead of being advised to preserve documents so as to assist Enron and the SEC, Andersen employees ... were instructed by Andersen partners and others to destroy immediately documents relating to Enron, and told to work overtime if necessary to accomplish the destruction," the indictment stated.

Andersen called the indictment a "gross abuse of government power" and vowed to fight the charges.

"The action taken against Arthur Andersen by the U.S. Department of Justice ... is without precedent and an extraordinary abuse of prosecutorial discretion," the company said. "A criminal prosecution against the entire firm for obstruction of justice is both factually and legally baseless."

If convicted, the corporation could be fined up to $500,000 or put on probation, which could mean restitution, a moratorium on certain types of business, or other restrictions.

David Duncan, who once headed Andersen's Enron account, is expected to be the government's key witness. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice last month and agreed to cooperate with the prosecutors.

Andersen performed accounting services for Enron for 16 years and had an office in the energy company's Houston headquarters.

Since the Enron bankruptcy in December, Andersen has lost more than 200 clients and laid off 7,000 of its 26,000 employees. The Chicago-based accounting firm's attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement with the government fell through a few weeks ago.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon told the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates to keep an open mind and not read news media accounts of the trial, talk about the case or do any independent research. The jurors, nine women and seven men, will receive further...
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2002-00-06
Monday, 06 May 2002 12:00 AM
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