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Published: Saturday, 10/4/2008

Enron prosecutor says case parallels crisis in subprime mortgage industry

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A former U.S. attorney who prosecuted top Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling said he sees several "eerie parallels" between the Enron case and the subprime mortgage crisis.

John C. Hueston, now a partner with the California-based law firm Irell & Manella LLP, was in Toledo yesterday to speak at the Toledo Bar Association's annual Kiroff/Bench Bar Seminar at the Park Inn Hotel, 101 North Summit St.

The event is named in honor of late Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge George Kiroff. The theme of the day was "Litigating the high-profile case: The story behind the story." About 150 lawyers attended, said Jenna Grubb, director of communications for the Toledo Bar Association.

Also speaking yesterday was James P. Cooney III, a lawyer with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, who defended one of the wrongfully charged Duke lacrosse players.

Mr. Hueston said in both the Enron case and the current crisis, corporate boards of directors were not very connected to the unfolding crisis. Additionally, the same sort of public pressure exists to "find heads," or find someone responsible in the aftermath.

And, in both situations, executives were "making very bullish statements" about the health of their companies "just weeks before the collapse."

Among the legal pointers Mr. Hueston gave in his presentation - don't risk losing your credibility with a jury, and don't overreach when making your case in the opening statements.

He also detailed his strategy of making the prosecution about the "lies and choices" of the Enron executives rather than the details of their financial misdeeds.

To make it an accounting case would have been "incomprehensible to a jury," he said. "If our case is about mind-numbing accounting concepts, no one is going to care."

Both Lay and Skilling were convicted in 2006 on numerous counts of fraud and conspiracy, though Lay's conviction had to be voided because of his death shortly after the trial that kept him from pursuing an appeal.

In the Duke case, Mr. Cooney's client was one of three young men falsely accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a party. The prosecutor in the case eventually was disbarred for his role in making the accusations against them.

Mr. Cooney's presentation, "Anatomy of a Hoax," showed how he used electronic "footprints" - such as cell phone records from the accuser and the accused; ATM photos; data from an electronic dormitory card reader that recorded when one of the young men entered his dorm, and digital camera photos - to show his client did not commit any crime.

If a false accusation could be made against three Duke students with no criminal record, imagine what it means to others who could be accused, he said.

The case is important, he said, because it shows why the judicial system has a presumption of innocence and due process.

The third featured speaker was J. Christopher Anderson, co-lead prosecutor in the murder trial of Gerald Robinson. The priest was convicted in a high-profile case in 2006 of murdering Sister Margaret Ann Pahl 26 years earlier. He is serving a sentence of 15 years to life in the Hocking Correctional Facility in southern Ohio.

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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