Enron jury selection begins in Houston
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While former chairmen Ken Lay and CEO Jeff Skilling twice requested a change of venue from Houston -- home of the former corporate giant, Judge Simeon T. Lake III wouldn't budge.
After examining responses to the jury questionnaires, Judge Lake indicated that he felt they did not show evidence of prejudice against the defendants. "I've been impressed by the apparent lack of bias or influence from media exposure," he said.
But Lay and Skilling's lawyers are concerned that they won't be able to get a fair trial given the general disdain Houston-ites have towards Enron and its murky collapse -- which left some 4,000 Houston-based employees out of work. Citing some 280 questionnaires, a jury consultant noted that "'greed' appeared 272 times and 'crook' appeared 55 times."
It doesn't look much better for Lay and Skilling outside the courtroom, where the NY Times reports that David "Nrun" Tonsall, a former Enron employee-turned-rapper, is working the crowd, distributing copies of his CD "Corporate Nrun America" which features the sure-to-be-hot single "Drop the 'S' in Skilling." (Suggested follow-up hit: "Add the 'S' to Lay"?)
Despite this, Houston just might be better for Skilling than New York City where, back in 2004, he had an encounter with the NYPD outside a bar after trying to fight two men who he claimed were undercover FBI agents. (They weren't.) Apparently, Skilling, who was with his wife, "even tried to lift the woman's (companion of the "FBI agents") blouse, claiming he was looking for a 'wire.'"
When it comes down to it, the much publicized, and nation-wide impact of the Enron collapse makes it hard to imagine a venue where jurors don't already have some knowledge and opinion of the company. Past trials and guilty pleas of lower-ranking Enron employees have repeatedly made the news in past years.
Business writer Kurt Eichenwald makes an interesting argument: to really have a "fair trial," jurors should bring their broader knowledge of the collapse of Enron and the already established pleas to this trial.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an editorial fellow at AlterNet.