By Ann Woolner, Bloomberg columnist
Two years after Enron launched the parade of corporate scandals, a banker, a lawyer and an executive chief all at once were on trial in three cases, in three courthouses. Finally, maybe someone will get comeuppance.
Oh sure, there have been guilty pleas for this and indictments for that, and investigators keep investigating the other. But there is nothing so satisfying for victims of lying and cheating and stealing as a public trial, a guilty verdict and the sight of a crook being sent off to prison for a long, long time.
“The problem that the defense has is these corporate scandals touched so many lives of so many millions of Americans,” says Robert Mintz, a former prosecutor and now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer in Newark. “It’s difficult to find a jury with someone who wasn’t touched — personally touched — by these corporate scandals.”
While awaiting verdicts in the three cases brought to trial in recent weeks, we already knew that defense lawyers tried to insulate the accused from backlash over the scandals and resentment toward the fabulously rich.
The task starts before the jury is picked and lasts through closing arguments. And it can be tricky.
He was saying that Kozlowski didn’t steal the money, an important point given that Kozlowski and Tyco former Chief Financial Officer Mark Swartz are accused of looting $400 million from the company.
But the notion that anyone could ever do enough to actually earn $100 million a year surely seems ridiculous to the average New York juror who will decide the state’s case. It seems especially laughable spoken in a courtroom with all the shabbiness of an urban police station, complete with linoleum floors and woodwork shiny with shellac.
At the Quattrone trial up the street in federal court, the approach was more subtle. Through gentle questioning, prospective jurors were asked a vague question about whether their judgment would be tainted by recent reports of problems in the business and financial worlds. The question was worded innocuously so as not to create the very resentment the court was trying to keep out of the jury box.
During the dot-com boom, Quattrone at Credit Suisse First Boston brought out more initial public offerings of technology companies than any other banker in the country, and was paid handsomely for doing so. And while regulators have accused him of cheating, and even though CSFB has paid $300 million to resolve various allegations, Quattrone is on trial only on charges he obstructed justice.
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Franklin C. Brown is awaiting a verdict on 11 charges, including obstructing justice and inflating income at Rite Aid Corp., where he was chief counsel and vice president.
There, as in the other two trials, potential jurors with too much ill will toward errant executives were culled during jury selection. Rite Aid’s trouble predated Enron’s, and yet it’s impossible to think Brown’s trial has no Enron echo.