It’s the final in a trio of “honest fraud” services cases to hit the Supreme Court, but it’s by far the most high profile.
Jeff Skilling, the former Enron executive currently serving a 20-plus year sentence in federal prison in Texas on conspiracy and fraud charges relating to the company’s collapse, will have his argument heard Monday by the high court.
The simplified versions of what Skilling’s attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers will argue are: 1) that Skillings’ convictions should be reversed because of bias in from the Houston jury and the court should not have denied his request for a venue change; and 2) that his convictions based on honest services fraud should be reversed because the honest services fraud statute in unconstitutionally vague and, even if it is not, it should not apply to Skilling’s actions.
The government will, of course, argue the opposite: 1) that denial of Skilling’s request for a change of venue did not violate his constitutional rights; 2) that the honest services fraud is not unconstitutionally vague and the Skilling violated it; but 3) even if there is a flaw in the honest services fraud, “any juror who voted for conviction based on that object also would have found petitioner guilty of conspiring to commit securities fraud,” and therefore, any error was harmless.
The honest services fraud clause has taken a beating, and it would not be a huge surprise if it is found unconstitutional or interpreted fairly narrowly. In Skilling’s case, the court will address whether honest services fraud requires an element of personal gain rather than acting for the gain of the employer, which in this case was Enron.
Whatever the court decides, Skilling’s fight is far from over: even with a win, the best he’ll get is a new trial.