Enron chiefs’ fraud case to kick off

The criminal trial of former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay and chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling will start today (31 January) in Houston, Texas, after the jury selection process was completed in just one day.

Skilling, 52, faces 31 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and deceiving auditors for allegedly lying about Enron’s financial strength.

Lay, 63, faces seven counts of fraud and conspiracy for perpetuating the alleged scheme after Skilling resigned in August 2001.

The jury selection had been expected to draw out longer following defence attempts to have the trial moved to a different location.

Both Lay and Skilling have a team of defence attorney’s working for them, with bills for each man expected to run into the millions.

Skilling’s lead defence attorney is O’Melveny & Myers’ Century City-based partner Daniel Petrocelli, who shot to fame after winning a civil suit against OJ Simpson for the family of Ron Goldman, the man slain along with Simpson’s wife Nicole.

Petrocelli is assisted by O’Melveny partners Matthew Kline, Randall Oppenheimer and Mark Holscher, as well as Houston sole practitioner Ron Woods.

O’Melveny was instructed by Skilling in 2001 to defend civil suits and the fraud charge defence marks Petrocelli’s first criminal trial.

Lay’s lead defence attorney is Michael Ramsey, a sole practitioner from Houston whose previous cases include winning acquittal for a New York millionaire charged with murdering his 71-year-old neighbour.

Assisting Ramsey is Houston sole practitioner Chip Lewis, Carrington Coleman Sloman & Blumenthal’s Dallas partner Bruce Collins and Bennett & Secrest’s Houston partner George Secrest.

US District Judge Sim Lake is a former litigation partner at Houston firm Fulbright & Jaworksi.

A number of Vinson & Elkins lawyers, including managing partner Joe Dilg, are on the witness list for the trial, but it is not yet known if they will be called or if they will testify under attorney-client privilege.

Houston-based Vinson is reported to have relied on Enron for more than 5 per cent of the firm’s revenues in 2001. The firm is also a defendant in forthcoming shareholder litigation.