Andersen jury seeks guidance

 

The jury in the Arthur Andersen obstruction-of-justice case returned to deliberations yesterday as the judge weighed a request from the panel on a key interpretation of instructions.

The jury sent a new note yesterday asking to be read portions of the trial transcript - a possible sign that the deliberations were still at an impasse.

The panel said it wanted to hear the testimony of Mr Thomas Newkirk, associate director of enforcement from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Judge Melinda Harmon had not yet responded to a note from the jurors asking whether they could reach a consensus on guilt even if they had different views about the identity of the so-called "corrupt persuader" in the case.

But Judge Harmon, outside the presence of jurors, heard arguments from lawyers on both sides in the case.

The handwritten note said jurors wanted to know how much consensus was necessary to reach a conviction.

"If each of us believes that one Andersen agent acted knowingly and with corrupt intent, is it for all of us to believe it was the same agent?" it said.

Federal prosecutor Mr Andrew Weissman argued in a conference with the judge - in the absence of the jury - that jurors did not need to concur on the identity of the agent to believe the firm shredded Enron-related documents in October 2001 to stymie an official inquiry into Enron's bookkeeping.

But Mr Dennis McInerney, an Andersen lawyer, argued that the charge did indeed require jurors to settle on one actor.

The question goes to the heart of the case because, although the government produced a wealth of evidence to show that Andersen staffers went on something of a shredding binge after learning of a SEC probe of Enron last year, prosecutors never clearly spelled out the form the conspiracy took.

Jurors are in their ninth day of deliberations.

They came back on Wednesday to say they were deadlocked, but Judge Harmon urged them to make another attempt at finding consensus on the charge.

Andersen was indicted in March on charges that it sought to thwart a SEC investigation of Enron - the Houston-based energy trader (and Andersen's second-largest client) that went bust in spectacular fashion in December - by shredding records documenting the audit firm's involvement in Enron's questionable accounting practices.