Enron's Jeff Skilling Wins Partial Supreme Court Victory, May Get a New Trial

Enron Ex-CEO Jeff Skilling
Enron Ex-CEO Jeff Skilling

Will Enron ex-CEO Jeffrey Skilling get out of jail? The Supreme Court ruled today on several aspects of Skilling's conviction, leaving him a path to a new trial on all counts, but not a certain one.

The court rejected Skilling's guaranteed passage to a new trial by ruling 6-3 that his jury was fair and not overly tainted by pretrial publicity and a short jury-screening procedure. Interestingly, the only justice with trial court experience -- Justice Sonia Sotomayor -- voted for Skilling on this point.

However, the court held that one statute that Skilling was convicted under -- the Honest Services statute -- didn't apply to what Skilling did. So the big question is, what next?

Was the Conviction a Result of "Harmless Error"?

The high court sent the case back for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide. On remand, the lower court will have to rule on whether Skilling's conspiracy conviction -- he was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, securities fraud, and money or property wire fraud -- must be reversed, or whether the inclusion of honest services was "harmless error" because any juror voting for a conspiracy conviction on the basis of honest-services wire fraud would have done so on the other bases as well. If the lower court holds the honest-services part is harmless error, Skilling has failed entirely, and all his convictions stand. (Of course, Skilling will appeal that decision, I'm sure.)

If the lower court tosses the conspiracy conviction, then it has to decide whether Skilling's other convictions -- he was convicted of more than conspiracy -- stand or fall. If the other convictions stand, he stays in jail (again, surely Skilling will appeal). If the court decides the other convictions were so tainted by the conspiracy one that they also have to be tossed, then Skilling goes free -- unless and until the government successfully reconvicts him.

In short, Skilling has hope. But no get-out-of-jail-free card.



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Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Stephen Chernin, Getty Images