Ken Lay's Judge Got it Right
I know this is difficult for many of you to accept, and I'm not arguing that its logical outside of the bounds of the law, but U.S. District Judge Simeon Lake got it right Tuesday when he vacated the conviction of former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay as a result of Lay's post-conviction, pre-sentencing death in July. Although federal prosecutors had asked Judge Lake to delay his ruling until Congress could act on a request by the Justice Department to change the law, he refused to do so and simply applied the law as it now stands.
Tough luck for the feds. Tough luck for the many victims of Enron who were hoping that they could more easily tap into Lay's already-diminished coffers. Tough luck for headline writers who now can't declare that Lay is a "convicted felon." But it is not a judge's role to make things more convenient for one party to a case. And the request by the Justice Department to have Congress change the law in the middle of this case-- to change the rules in the middle of a game, if you will-- was nothing short of pathetic. I have no problem with a federal rule that declares that a man who is convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt may not avoid that conviction even in death (unless his estate successfully appeals the conviction). But that wasn't the rule when Ken Lay died in his bathroom on July 5th.
Judge Lake's ruling does not end the government's pursuit of whatever assets the Lay estate still has. Although the feds now cannot pursue restitution as part of a criminal case, the feds are free to try to pursue money as part of a civil action against the estate. And now that Lay is gone, it is more likely that the representatives of his estate and federal lawyers can work together on some sort of a settlement that both ensures some modicum of financial security for Lay's wife but also gives back to the many victims of Enron at least a little money.
The problem with that scenario, of course, is that so many people are owed so much by Enron's bad actors that whatever money the feds could get from the state would be a small fraction of what is truly owed. The rest of that money has vanished, into thin air, into real estate deals and luxury living and all the other trappings of wealth and excess that enveloped the gang at Enron before their own greed and malfeasance took them and the company down. Sometimes, the story doesn't end well. It didn't for Lay. And it won't for his victims.
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Posted by: CT | October 18, 2006 10:55 AM
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