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Supreme Court to hear Enron ex-CEO appeal

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in four cases, including the case of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling [JURIST news archives]. In Skilling v. United States [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether the federal honest services fraud statute [18 USC § 1346 text] requires the government to prove that the defendant's conduct was intended to achieve "private gain" rather than to advance the employer's interests, and, if not, whether § 1346 is unconstitutionally vague. The second issue is whether the government must rebut the presumption of jury prejudice, which arose because of pretrial publicity and community impact of the alleged conduct, and, if so, whether the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no juror was actually prejudiced. In February, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] denied [JURIST report] a petition for an en banc rehearing for Skilling after a three-judge panel upheld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] his previous convictions and ordered him to be resentenced due to error in the lower court. Skilling's appeal was based on a previous Fifth Circuit ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that overturned convictions for other Enron executives based on "honest services theft" because they had acted in Enron's best interest by direction and did not profit from their actions. The panel ruled that Skilling's case differed from these previous rulings because "no one at Enron sanctioned Skilling's improper conduct" and because Skilling's compensation structure was aligned with Enron's earnings. In 2006, Skilling was convicted [JURIST report] of 19 counts of conspiracy, insider trading, and securities fraud and is currently serving a 24-year sentence. Skilling initially appealed [JURIST report] his conviction in September 2007 claiming prosecutorial and judicial errors.

In United States v. Marcus [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will decide whether the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] erred in its interpretation of Rule 52(b) [text] of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Second Circuit adopted [opinion, PDF] as the appropriate standard for plain-error review of an asserted ex post facto violation whether "there is any possibility, no matter how unlikely, that the jury could have convicted based exclusively on pre-enactment conduct."

In Health Care Service Corporation v. Pollitt [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will decide whether federal law [5 USC §§ 8901–14] on federal employees' health benefits preempts a state court lawsuit filed against a government contractor administering such benefits. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that the state law claims were not preempted.

In Holland v. Florida [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether "gross negligence" by a state-appointed defense attorney in a death penalty case provides a basis for extending the time to file a federal habeas challenge, in a case where the habeas plea was filed late despite repeated instructions from the client. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] against extending time to file the challenge.

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