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Houston-It wasn’t at all what Michael Ramsey wanted or envisioned for the crucial hours when his long-time client, former Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth Lay, would take the witness stand in his defense at his criminal trial. Ramsey, one of the best-known criminal-defense attorneys in Texas, said he spent more than two years talking to Lay about the facts in the case, and he expected to be the lawyer guiding Lay through his direct testimony. But after Ramsey became ill with a serious heart condition during the trial and missed weeks of the proceedings, he passed Lay’s direct testimony off to co-counsel George “Mac” Secrest, and the rest of the Lay defense team had to fill in gaps created by Ramsey’s absence. “It was, in my opinion, a heroic effort,” Ramsey, a Houston solo, said in describing the work of the other leading lawyers on the defense team: Secrest, Bruce Collins and Chip Lewis. “We lost one of our four players,” Ramsey said in describing what his temporary departure from the trial meant to the team. “They were having to pick up at least 25% of the work.” Ramsey said Secrest did a wonderful job eliciting direct testimony from Lay during the trial, and the testimony didn’t turn out a “whit different” from how he would have handled it. But the burning issue is whether Ramsey’s illness made any difference to the trial’s outcome, which ended on May 25 when a federal court jury in Houston returned guilty verdicts against Lay and co-defendant Jeffrey Skilling, Enron’s one-time chief executive officer. Several Texas lawyers who followed the Lay-Skilling criminal trial have mixed views about whether Ramsey’s absence affected the ultimate outcome of the trial. Thomas Ajamie of Houston’s Ajamie LLP said that the other lawyers on Lay’s defense team are very competent; while they may have a different style than Ramsey, a four-month-long criminal trial is won on substance, not on style. Ramsey’s absence had less effect on the verdict, Ajamie said, than the overwhelming number of witnesses who testified for the prosecution and against Lay and Skilling. But he also notes that Lay and Skilling didn’t do themselves any favors by their sometimes combative demeanor in their testimony. “I don’t think either one of them helped their own defense,” he said. Brian Wice, a solo practitioner in Houston who mostly handles appeals, said that he doesn’t believe that Ramsey’s illness had an effect on the verdict because the prosecution did a “masterful job of distilling a seemingly complicated case.” Ramsey’s influence But he disagrees with Ramsey’s assertion that his inability to conduct Lay’s direct testimony was a nonfactor in the case. Wice said Ramsey would not have tolerated Lay’s self-destructive behavior on the witness stand, such as the time when Lay responded to a question from Secrest by asking him, “Where are you going with this, Mr. Secrest?” “Those of us who have known Mike Ramsey for more than 10 minutes, and I’ve known him for more than 20 years, knew in our heart of hearts that the first time that Lay tried any of that nonsense that he tried with Mac Secrest on direct, basically calling him out,” Ramsey would have taken him in the witness prep room and read him the riot act, Wice suggests. Secrest, a partner at Bennett & Secrest in Houston, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment. Joel Androphy, a partner in Berg & Androphy in Houston who also followed the trial, also wonders how Ramsey would have handled Lay’s apparent compulsion to try to run the show. “You don’t have your typical client who relies upon a lawyer’s advice . . . and respects a lawyer’s judgment and experience and just ability to communicate with jurors,” Androphy said. “You have a defendant that believes he is the one best suited at doing all of the above, but he obviously found out during his [cross-] examination that this was not boardroom communications.” With a more typical client, Androphy said, the absence of the lead defense attorney would have a tremendous and devastating effect on the case. Houston criminal defense attorney Dan Cogdell of the Cogdell Law Firm won an acquittal in 2004 for former Enron employee Sheila Kahanek in a related case known as the Nigerian Barge trial. He said that it’s hard to say if Ramsey’s absence had an effect on the outcome in Lay’s case. “I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have had some effect, if for no other reason that psychologically it’s a disappointment when a lead lawyer had to take a powder,” Cogdell said. “Mike certainly had the closest personal relationship with Lay. That’s got to be Lay’s worst nightmare,” Cogdell said of Ramsey’s forced departure from the trial proceedings. But there is also the juror factor and what they thought about the performance of the defense lawyers during the 16 weeks of trial. Immediately after the verdict, when the 12 jurors and three alternates met with reporters to discuss the case, jurors talked little about the attorneys. Juror Freddy Delgado, an elementary school principal, did tell reporters that Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling’s lead attorney, impressed him. “If I ever was a defendant, I would go with Mr. Petrocelli,” Delgado said on May 25.

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