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First, the jury. The much-awaited trial of accounting firm Arthur Andersen on obstruction of justice charges opened with jury selection Monday in Houston. In their questioning of a pool of more than 100 jurors, prosecutors revealed an outline of how they plan to try the case, and Andersen’s lead defense attorney signaled how he will defend the beleaguered firm. For all its significance, it was a day of procedures, not unlike trials all across the United States. Andersen’s lead defense attorney, Russell “Rusty” Hardin, smiling and appearing relaxed in a khaki suit and bright yellow tie in a sea of dark suits and ties, shook hands with members of the press as he entered the 11th floor courtroom of the U.S. District Court, just blocks from Enron’s new tower in downtown Houston. Judge Melinda Harmon, known around Houston as a tough, no-nonsense judge, opened by explaining the charges to the jury pool. She also told them that if they were chosen as jurors, they would be objective fact finders and would be restricted from media exposure during the trial, including print, TV and radio. “We want you to be vigilant and put out of your mind evidence not put to you,” she said. “None of us expect you to come to the court brain-dead. We don’t want you brain-dead.” On Monday night, after a long day of questioning, a jury had been selected for the trial made up of nine men and seven women. The U.S. Department of Justice won an indictment of Andersen in March on a single criminal charge of obstruction of justice, alleging the firm destroyed documents to keep them from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was investigating the collapse of the now-bankrupt Enron. If convicted, Andersen could be fined $500,000 and be prevented from doing business in a number of states. Many observers believe a guilty verdict would complete the destruction of a firm that has, over the past few months, been rapidly unraveling as both partners and clients fled. As the juror questioning process began, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Friedrich asked potential jurors whether any of them knew Andersen employees (about eight stood up), whether any of them used to work at Andersen (another eight stood up) and whether any of them or their family members had been accused or convicted of a crime. Friedrich also asked them if they knew any of the government’s potential witnesses. There are 53 names on the list, including star witness David Duncan, the former Andersen lead partner on the Enron account in Houston, and Nancy Temple, an Andersen attorney in Chicago. Duncan, who was fired by Andersen last January, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges April 9 and is cooperating with the government. He’s expected to claim that he was only doing his job as directed by Temple in an Oct. 12 e-mail that reminded employees to be “compliant with policy of document retention and destruction.” For his part, Hardin, a prominent Houston defense attorney, took prosecutors to task for asking potential jurors whether they had ever been asked to shred documents by their employers to hide evidence from the police. “I don’t think there’s going to be any evidence that anyone destroyed documents to keep them away from the police,” he said. “It’s a stunt, and you should say, ‘Shame on you.’ Promise me that you’ll wipe that comment from your minds.” Hardin then asked potential jurors if they could treat Andersen fairly despite what they already had heard. “Think deeply in your heart,” he pleaded with potential jurors. “Can you be fair?” Opening statements began Tuesday. The prosecution will have 15 days to present its case, and Hardin will have four to five days to present its defense. Duncan is expected to be an early witness. Prosecutors are expected to try to convince jurors that Andersen should be found guilty even if only a few employees participated in the illegal shredding because they acted in the general scope of the business to benefit the company. The defense is expected to argue that companies shred documents all the time and Andersen did not corruptly persuade its employees to destroy evidence to impair an SEC investigation. Andersen’s attorneys first sought a speedy trial, which Harmon granted. But two weeks ago, they asked for a delay, which the judge denied. She hopes to have the trial wrapped up by May 29, when she has a scheduled vacation. Harmon said Monday that if the trial is not completed by then, she will postpone the vacation. “I’m not going to stop this trial,” she said. Andersen has lost more than 300 clients since questions began to arise last fall about Enron’s accounting practices. It’s also been selling off bits and pieces of the firm, including four Midwestern offices to rival Ernst & Young Monday for an undisclosed amount. Ernst & Young had already agreed to take over Andersen offices in Peru, Germany, Malaysia and India. Copyright (c)2002 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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