Monday’s Headlines: High Court to Hear Former Enron Chief’s Appeal

BY Tom LeGro  March 1, 2010 at 9:12 AM EST

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling’s appeal of his 2006 conviction for his role in the downfall of the Houston-based energy company.

Skilling’s attorneys argue that Enron’s collapse into bankruptcy in 2001 was so traumatic for residents of Houston that he couldn’t get a fair trial there and that an addendum to the federal mail and wire fraud statute, under which federal prosecutors have used to send public officials and corporate executives to prison, is unconstitutionally vague.

The addendum makes it illegal for officials, executives and others to scheme to deprive those they serve and possibly others of “the intangible right to honest services.”

The Supreme Court’s decision could mean new hearings for Skilling, as well as for Jack Abramoff, who was also convicted under the “honest services” statute.

Skilling was convicted in 2006 on 19 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors for his role in the downfall of Enron. He is serving a sentence of more than 24 years at a minimum security prison outside of Denver.

“Just like his views of corporate governance, finance, integrity and the truth, Skilling’s arguments about Houston and Enron are predicated on twisting the facts, writes Loren Steffy, the Houston Chronicle’s business columnist.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen sees the case a bit differently:

“This time, alas, the bad guys are right. Skilling (and his boss, Kenneth Lay,) never should have been tried in that city at that time. Never mind the case’s earnest ‘honest services’ dispute, if the federal rules governing venue changes are ever to have anymore meaning — if a high-profile client ever is going to get the benefit of his or her constitutional right to an ‘impartial’ jury — the Supreme Court is going to have to grant Skilling a new trial. It would be a decision as unpopular as it would be legally justified.”

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On the health care front, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday she would have enough votes to pass a health overhaul. Passing an overhaul is just one test for Pelosi. According to Politico: “The coming months are a make-or-break period for her, a brutal reality check of her ability to manage all aspects of her job — consensus-building, agenda-setting, vote-counting, fundraising and campaigning.”

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In Afghanistan, a contingent of more than 2,000 U.S. Marines and about 1,000 Afghan troops will remain in the Taliban stronghold for several months, military commanders said Sunday.