While in college I read an article that detailed the trial of an estranged husband who was accused of stabbing his soon-to-be ex-wife to death.
Since the coroner determined that the woman had some 20-plus puncture wounds I was more than interested to hear his defense.
I wasn’t disappointed.
His attorneys claimed that he tried to help prevent spouse from falling as she was chopping vegetables and, tragically, she kept falling on the knife she was holding.
Until now, that ranked among the most ludicrous arguments for freedom I’d heard. However, late last week I noticed a small item in the paper on how lawyers for former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling argued that his conviction for fraud should be overturned.
The reason, they claim, was that his guilty verdict was predicated on a flawed legal theory that, and, I kid you not, deprived Enron of Skilling’s “honest services.”
I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
But wait, it gets better.
The barristers, who argued before a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, maintained that everything Skilling did when in the employ of Enron was done in the company’s best interests.
I’ll repeat that again lest you think it’s a typo - “best interests.”
To put this in perspective, this comes from a man who was sentenced to nearly a quarter-century in prison for his role in one of the biggest collapses in the history of American business.
A company that was once valued at a mind-numbing $68 billion was wiped out in a massive bankruptcy filing which eradicated more than $1 billion in retirement funds. The aftermath also resulted in the collapse of its auditor, Arthur Andersen.
To recap, Skilling was convicted on 19 counts of conspiracy and fraud with most of those charges stemming from the Byzantine financial structures that the energy concern used to conveniently remove debt off the balance sheet.
One of the most galling aspects to this debacle was the lack of remorse of both Skilling and the late Enron founder Ken Lay, who died before checking into the crowbar hotel. Both insisted that it was in fact negative articles in the press and short sellers that did the company in, not their complicity in the massive scandal.
Fortunately, the argument was quickly dismissed by the Circuit Court, which said in fact that Skilling’s actions were in opposition to the best interests of the employees and shareholders and more or less suggested that he get used to his cell as he’s going to be there for a while.
But I don’t expect him to give up.
I’m sure we can expect another appeal in the future. In the meantime, I would suggest that prison officials don’t assign him to kitchen detail, especially vegetable preparation.
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