Now the Enron Jury Gets its Turn

Imagine yourself as a juror in the federal fraud and conspiracy trial of former Enron chiefs Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. For nearly four months, four days a week, you have had to sit in a courtroom and listen to lawyers, accountants, business executives and the judge argue about the meaning of this, that and the other. You have missed work, lots a lot of money in wages or salary, and have had to keep from sharing your unique experience with the most important people in your life. You've been told where to go, and when, and you've haven't been able to do much about it. Oh, and you know that whatever you decide about Houston's most important case ever your friends and neighbors are going to have plenty to say about it.

But now that all changes. Now the women and men of the Enron jury hold all the power and control. They get to decide when they deliberate, and how, and of course how this grand moral drama ultimalley will turn out. They will set their own schedule and this time it will be the attorneys and judge who jump at their call. They can cautiously pour over the evidence introduced over the course of the long trial. Or they can throw pencils at the ceiling and chat about Roger Clemens' and his imminent return to baseball. Welcome to the jury room, the last purely populist place in American law or politics.

There is no way to tell what the eight women and four men on the panel thought of the closing arguments now concluded. My experience tells me that closing arguments rarely determine the outcome of a case. For example, I thought one of the best closing arguments I ever heard was performed by Martha Stewart's attorney, Robert Morvillo. And yet sure enough Martha was quickly convicted; hoisted on her own wicker-encrusted petard, you might say. On the other hand, I have heard prosecutors deliver closing arguments with the sort of focus and polish you get from computer call centers-- and quickly win the case anyway.

I think the reason for this is the general cynicism most rational people feel toward lawyers. Jaded by television dramas, and distrustful of power, jurors often try to fiind the simplest path out of the case they are asked to resolve. Whichever path is the easiest to find and follow for this jury will determine its outcome. Prosecutors say it cannot be a coincidence that Lay and Skilling are the only honorable figures at Enron. Defense attorneys say that the two men should not be found guilty by association with the many former Enron folks who already have pleaded guilty and who testified for the government.

Texs juries are famous for being quick and decisive. I don't know about decisive but I'm guessing this jury won't be back quick. Having waited for nearly four months, what's another few days?

By  |  May 17, 2006; 1:18 PM ET
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Martha Stewart did not have a trial. She was lynched under the guise of justice. Morvillo could not have stopped it no matter how eloquent his summary.

Posted by: Sally | May 17, 2006 04:24 PM

On law school exams, I was taught to apply the law to the facts given and let that lead me to an answer. Basically, I was taught to not make assumptions, something that is natural to do. Now, as a lawyer, the assumption is made for me as I already know what the answer is that my client wants, and so I attempt to find the law to suit that answer.

I think jurors probably do the same thing. They see the answer that is probably right or what they believe others think they ought to see as the right answer. And then they find what evidence or law to support that.

Just a thought on what I think we do as human nature. We make assumptions and then try to back them up.

Posted by: Conor | May 17, 2006 05:22 PM

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