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A federal bankruptcy judge in New York on Wednesday lifted a legal shield protecting Enron Corp., allowing current and former employees who lost their retirement savings to sue the collapsed energy giant. About 15,000 former Enron employees lost between $500 million and $1 billion when Enron made the biggest bankruptcy filing in history Dec. 2, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Eli Gottesdiener. When a company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it is automatically protected from lawsuits unless a judge removes the shield. Judges have been known to uphold it so companies can reorganize without the burden of lawsuits. “We’re gratified by the judge’s decision and look forward to our day in court against Enron,” Gottesdiener said. Lawyers for Enron did not immediately return calls. About a dozen lawsuits alleging Enron violated federal pension rules are being consolidated into a single class action case to be heard in a Houston court. That trial will determine how much the employees as a group would be entitled to as an unsecured creditor. The actual distribution of funds would be decided by the federal bankruptcy court in New York. In his ruling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez said Enron lawyers must appear in a Houston court Monday to set a trial schedule. Gonzalez also compelled Enron to give plaintiffs’ lawyers access to documents that have already been handed over to government and congressional investigators. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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