Andersen, the US accounting firm in the process of disintegration after its involvement in the Enron scandal, has asked a federal judge to overturn the guilty verdict handed to it in trial for obstruction of justice.
Andersen was indicted in March for the obstruction of federal investigations into the financial affairs of Enron, the energy giant, through its shredding of thousands of documents relating to an audit of Enron it had conducted. However, in public statements since the June 15 verdict, a number of jurors have stated they found the firm guilty not due to the shredding, but primarily because of the request by an Andersen lawyer that an internal memo be altered.
Andersen’s legal team has thus argued that these comments indicate that the jury ruled against the firm for the wrong reasons, as the indictment was, in their opinion, focussed squarely on the shredding of documents and deletion of e-mails.
The lawyers are requesting either an acquittal or a new trial, as the indictment did not, from their perspective, suggest that any Andersen employee committed a crime by persuading another person to alter documentation.
It is however extremely rare for a judge to consider post-trial comments by jurors as grounds to overturn a verdict, especially as federal rules bar jurors from testifying about their deliberations, except in rare circumstances. Andersen lawyer Rusty Hardin has suggested that the comments constitute a special case, as they show that the jury found the accountancy firm guilty on the basis of facts not fully discussed in court.
Although the Justice Department did not immediately respond, Andrew Weissman, one of the prosecutors, insisted that the memo constituted a key part of the case. The memo in question recounted conversations with Enron officials about concerns auditors had about the company’s October 2001 earnings release. The memo was circulated to several Andersen employees, including lawyer Nancy Temple, who, via e-mail, asked the writer, former Andersen accountant David Duncan, to make some changes, including the deletion of some language that might suggest we have concluded the release was misleading.
Mr Hardin has argued that if Ms Temple’s e-mail had been part of the indictment, Andersen would have been able to show that her actions were not obstruction, as they amounted to the editing of a draft document, which is the way Mr Duncan had previously described the memo.