U.S. Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Enron CEO Skilling Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider throwing out the convictions against former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. He's the highest-ranking executive serving prison time for playing a role in the 2001 collapse of the energy giant. But he says the law that prosecutors used to convict him was incorrectly applied, and that he didn't receive a fair trial. David Pitman has more.

Jeff Skilling is serving a 24-year sentence on 19 convictions for conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading, and lying to auditors. 

This past January, The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld those convictions, but ordered his prison time to be reduced. 

In his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Skilling wants justices to decide whether prosecutors were off-base in their application of the federal "honest services" fraud statute.

"That provision is basically saying you did not give honest services to your employer in the course of engaging in all this fraud."

Adam Gershowitz is an associate professor at the University of Houston Law Center who closely followed Skilling's 2006 trial.  He says the Supreme Court will have to decide whether Skilling should have been convicted under the "honest services" law if, unlike others involved in the Enron bankruptcy, he wasn't skimming off money for himself.

"The idea he just committed fraud or misconduct on behalf of trying to improve the company is different, as far as he's concerned, from the question of whether he personally gained from it."

Skilling is also asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on whether negative pre-trial publicity made it impossible to receive a fair trial here.  Gershowitz says up until now, that hasn't been a reliable argument for throwing out a conviction.

"What the Supreme Court seems to be signaling, though, is that they're possibly willing to reconsider that question, and change the law that existed, and to make the standard more favorable to defendants that Skilling faced."

No date has been set for Skilling's appeal, but it's expected to happen early next year.

David Pitman. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of David Pitman

David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...