The closest I've ever come to contact with the Supreme Court came in the mid-1960s when I unfortunately was seated in front of former Justice Abe Fortas on a New York to California flight, and was nearly asphyxiated when he lit up a cigar -- which I thought was illegal. But then again, who was about to argue with a jurist on the nation's high court?
For many years thereafter, I pictured the chambers of the Supreme Court resembling a smoky jazz bar, with legal briefs substituted for brass and woodwinds. I envisioned the overflowing ashtrays after the Miranda decision in 1966 or Roe v. Wade some seven years later.
But fast-forward to 2005 when smokers are cast as societal pariahs and performing that function indoors in cities such as New York is akin to armed robbery. And forget about those halcyon days when smoking was permitted on domestic flights. Someone who mistakenly lights up on a New York to LA run had better learn to fly sans parachute.
These days I'm convinced the smoking product of choice for the high court is grown in specially lit greenhouses or flourishes somewhere in the desert.
The news that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of Arthur Andersen's conviction on obstruction charges, to me at least, represents a gargantuan exercise in futility.
Let me get this straight. The firm that admitted shredding documents in the massive audit failure of Enron and was convicted of obstruction charges in a Houston court -- a verdict that later was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals -- has successfully lobbied the high court to hear arguments?
The plaintiffs claim that the jury instructions in the original trial were unclear as to reaching a conviction on obstruction, and want the court to either acquit the firm, or grant a new trial with clearer jury instructions.
For the sake of argument, say the High Court decides to acquit the firm of the obstruction charges. Now what?
To my knowledge, Andersen currently exists only in small pockets and support functions. Do the thousands of former Andersen employees now gainfully employed elsewhere suddenly pick up, leave their present posts and band together for an emotional reunion?
I don't think so.
Does it clear its name?
Well legally, yes. But no matter what ruling is handed down by the nine jurists, Andersen will be eternally branded as the poster child for audit scandal.
In another scenario, what if the firm receives a new trial? And then, in yet another protracted trial, the firm is found not guilty of obstruction.
Again, what happens?
Andersen is done.
Sadly, the thousands of diligent auditors and employees suffered for the inexcusable actions of a few. The satisfaction of a "Not Guilty" verdict would hardly be a salve for the pain of the last four years -- no matter what you're smoking.
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