Accounting & Auditing | Corporate Finance & Governance | Legislative / Regulatory

Skilling’s appeal: More salt in our Enron wounds

Law Wanna make your blood boil? Think about this one for a second:

A few short months from now, Jeffrey Skilling might go free.

You remember Jeffrey Skilling. He ran a little company called Enron, whose implosion destroyed wealth, lives and dreams and (along with a couple of guys named Sarbanes and Oxley) fundamentally changed the ways in which CPAs and corporate finance types do business.

Skilling is currently serving a 24-year, 4-month prison sentence for, among other things, conspiracy, insider trading and making false statements to auditors. But he has appealed his conviction, and in October the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal.

According to National Public Radio's Wade Goodwyn, Skilling's appeal centers on two central arguments -- that a judge should have granted Skilling's request that the site of his trial be changed, and that the prosecution's assertion that Skilling deprived Enron employees and investors of his "honest services" is, in the words of Time, a "bogus charge."

What does that "honest services" argument mean? Beats the heck out of me. Goodwyn does a much better job of explaining it that I ever could, so listen to his NPR report in its entirety.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in early 2010.

The mere fact that the Supreme Court is hearing the case means there's a pretty good chance that Skilling will walk. I'm quoting here from The Houston Chronicle:

"The Supreme Court gets about 10,000 requests a year and typically picks fewer than 80 cases to hear, usually ones raising legal issues that might prompt the high court to overturn lower courts' rulings. It generally reverses 65 percent to 75 percent of the cases it hears, and that's what it did in the prior two Enron-related cases it heard."

So Enron sinks like a rock, takes with it the life savings of countless employees and investors, then forces lawmakers to rewrite accounting regulations, and Skilling is on the verge of going home. Is anyone besides me angry about all of this?

What do you think: Should Skilling's conviction be overturned?

Learn more about Sarbanes-Oxley-related issues at these MACPA programs:


Bill Sheridan