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Supreme Court denies new trial for Enron ex-CEO

The US Supreme Court [official website] declined review [docket] in the case of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling [JURIST news archives] on Monday. The court, without any comment, allowed to stand the decision [opinion, PDF] of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website], which ruled the errors were harmless and rejected Skilling's challenge to his conviction. Skilling's attorney believed the court should summarily reverse the appeals court or fully consider the case. The government said the the erroneous Pinkerton instruction [USLegal backgrounder] given by the trial judge was correctly deemed a harmless error [Reuters report]. Last April, the appeals court denied the new trial [JURIST report], but did vacate the original sentence against Skilling and remanded for resentencing due to lower court error.

In June 2010, the Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in Skilling v. United States [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the "honest services" doctrine [18 USC § 1346 text] is not unconstitutionally vague [JURIST report] under a limited construction of the statute and that the district court adequately "detected and diffused" juror prejudice in the pre-trial publicity of Skilling. In February 2009, the Fifth Circuit denied [JURIST report] a petition for an en banc rehearing for Skilling after a three-judge panel upheld [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 [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 earning. In 2006, Skilling was convicted [JURIST report] of 19 counts of conspiracy, insider trading and securities fraud. He is currently serving a 24-year sentence. Skilling initially appealed [JURIST report] his conviction in September 2007 claiming prosecutorial and judicial errors.

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