Judge says jurors need not
agree on wrongdoer but
that there was a wrongdoing
HOUSTON — The judge in the Arthur Andersen LLP obstruction of justice trial ruled Friday that jurors do not have to agree on who committed the crime as long as each of them believes somebody did.
U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon’s decision, a victory for prosecutors, means the panel can disagree on which Andersen employee destroyed Enron Corp.-related documents last fall as long as all of them think someone “acted knowingly and with corrupt intent.”
The ruling could remove a stumbling block for a jury that earlier this week told the judge it was deadlocked.
Harmon said she couldn’t find a parallel case.
“If someone knows of a case that’s directly on point, I would really urge you to give me the (citation) right now so I don’t make a mistake and rule incorrectly,” Harmon said before announcing her decision.
Following her ruling, lead Andersen attorney Rusty Hardin asked for a mistrial. Harmon denied the request.
The jury recessed for the night without reaching a verdict. They were to resume deliberations Saturday.
Harmon’s ruling ended two days of debate that began Thursday, when jurors issued a flurry of notes after declaring themselves deadlocked the night before. The most important of the notes to Harmon read:
“If each of us believes that one Andersen agent acted knowingly and with corrupt intent, is it for all of us to believe it was the same agent?” the jury’s note Thursday said. “Can one believe it was Agent A, another believe it was Agent B, and another believe it was Agent C?”
Harmon’s answer came on the ninth day of deliberations. She acknowledged that it appeared to be breaking new legal ground and appeared worried about her ruling.
“I’m kind of in a position of a case of first impression, which is terrifying for a district judge,” Harmon said.
Earlier Friday, jurors heard requested excerpts from testimony by David Duncan, Andersen’s former top Enron auditor who testified for prosecutors in an agreement stemming from his own guilty plea to obstruction of justice.
The panel wanted to hear Duncan’s take on discussions with former Enron chief accounting officer Rick Causey about third quarter losses and an Oct. 23 conference call where a possible Enron restatement was mentioned.
Andersen is accused of obstructing justice by shredding Enron-related documents before the former energy trading giant collapsed last year.
The firm argues its employees shredded documents to comply with a long-standing company policy of eliminating unnecessary and outdated materials.
If convicted, Andersen could face fines, probation and barred be from auditing public companies.
The trial started May 6 with jury selection; deliberations began June 6.