As an Arthur Andersen alumnus, I must say I'm cheered and assuaged by the Supreme Court overturning the firm's 2002 obstruction-of-justice conviction. I'd already left the firm by the time Enron trouble began to brew, but I don't discount the victory of belated vindication for the firm, its partners, and the 28,000 employees who lost their jobs due to the collapse.
That said, as a Certified Fraud Examiner, I'm a little flummoxed by the fact that the botch of yet another high-profile white collar trial owed to jury confusion. Specifically, the Court found that vague instructions given to the jury enabled them to return a conviction even if they believed the shredding activity in question to have been conducted without illegal intent.
In this case, amorphous jury instructions resulted in an improper conviction. But the recent pattern has been quite the opposite.
- Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy's trial has been teetering on the brink of mistrial for days, reportedly due to the jury's confusion (as yet unquelled by multiple follow-up instructions) over the minutia of a conspiracy charge and its 4-page verdict form.
- Amazingly, there is worry of a possible second mistrial for Dennis Kozlowski, former Tyco CEO.
"U.S. Atty. Alice Martin said jurors may be confused by the 37-page form they must fill out to decide the case. Reaching a verdict on the conspiracy charge alone requires considering dozens of questions spread over four pages."
Others among the swelling ranks of high-profile white collar defendants to stymie recent juries:
- Walter Forbes, former CEO of Cendant Corp.
- Frank Quattrone, former star banker at Credit Suisse First Boston
- Michael Rigas, son of Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas
- David Wittig, former CEO of Westar Energy
To be sure, fraud charges are complex and warrant an appropriately detailed treatment. But given the broad impact of the outcomes of these cases, we ought to make sure that the due peculaiarities don't preclude juries from reaching informed verdicts.
An incisive first step might be to revisit the language of U.S. District Court conspiracy verdict
Handcrafted by Flip on May 31, 2005 |
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