By Kristen Hays
The Associated Press, March 22, 2006
HOUSTON — The man who brought the indictment against former Enron Corp. Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling visited his fraud and conspiracy trial Wednesday with a slew of law students in tow.
Sam Buell, a former prosecutor with the Justice Department's Enron Task Force who now teaches a course in corporate crime at the University of Texas School of Law, brought his students to sit in on the biggest fraud case to emerge from the recent era of corporate scandals.
"I feel like this is a distant memory in my life," Buell said, "but it continues on. It gives you a sense of how epic these cases are. They just go on for years."
Buell was assigned to the task force at its inception in January 2002 and joined the university as a visiting professor after he stepped down in March 2004. He secured the government's indictment against Skilling a month before.
Skilling's co-defendant, Enron founder Kenneth Lay, was indicted in July 2004.
"I miss the opportunity to try this case a little bit. It's the white-collar trial of the century," Buell said. "But it can completely capture your life. It's trial by ordeal, not just for the defendants."
Buell helped prosecute Arthur Andersen LLP in 2002 on an obstruction of justice charge for destroying tons of Enron-related documents in the fall of 2001 as regulators began investigating the energy company's finances. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that conviction last year, citing vague jury instructions that allowed jurors to convict without finding criminal intent behind document destruction.
Buell and his students on Wednesday observed testimony from former Enron Treasurer Ben Glisan Jr., who corroborated previous witnesses linking Lay and Skilling to a web of lies about Enron's health. Glisan pleaded guilty to conspiracy in September 2003 and is halfway through a five-year prison term.
Matt Nickson, a third-year law student, said he was impressed with what he saw, but he had no predictions of the outcome.
"I don't like to judge. My tendency is not to want to condemn people," he said.
Skilling faces 31 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors, while Lay faces seven counts of fraud and conspiracy. The government contends both lied repeatedly about Enron's financial strength when they allegedly knew the company was propped up by accounting tricks.
The two defendants counter that there was no fraud at Enron, they did nothing wrong, and negative publicity as well as diminished market confidence drove the company into bankruptcy protection in December 2001.
Buell Blogs the Enron Trial for the Houston Chronicle: http://www.utexas.edu/law/news/2006/031306_blog.html
About Professor Buell: http://www.utexas.edu/law/faculty/sb3523/