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When the jury in the Arthur Andersen LLP trial hung its June verdict on company lawyer Nancy Temple, they picked a lousy villain. At least that’s the take of Temple’s friends, who characterize her as exceptionally diligent and honest. But legal ethics experts say the jury’s decision is unlikely to be overturned, even though some question its reasoning. The jury deliberated 10 days, during which they dismissed prosecutors’ broader evidence of document destruction. Instead, jurors focused on an e-mail Temple had sent from her Chicago office to the audit firm’s Houston outpost on Oct. 16, 2001. The message was a narrow piece of legal advice, directing Andersen partner David Duncan to alter a memo for the firm’s file on Enron Corp. It proved, jurors decided, that Temple intended to obstruct the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Enron inquiry and “corruptly persuade” others to do so as well. Temple isn’t speaking to the press, according to her attorney, Mark Hansen. But in January testimony before a panel of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, she revealed herself as a tough thinker who refused to get rattled. Her coolness under fire is unsurprising. She’s a Harvard-trained litigator who made partner at Chicago’s Sidley & Austin (now Sidley Austin Brown & Wood) in 1997. Friends and former colleagues, however, insist that honesty is as central to Temple’s personality as intelligence. “Nancy is incapable of committing a crime — period,” asserts Richard Bernstein, a partner in Sidley Austin’s Washington, D.C., office. Former colleagues also agree on Temple’s unrelenting perfectionism, which led her to work punishingly long hours at Sidley. When she was offered an in-house job at Andersen, friends urged her to take it. “We thought it would provide more balance and a lot less excitement,” says longtime friend Kelly Jo MacArthur, GC of Seattle-based RealNetworks Inc. Temple started at the firm in July 2000. She was put on the Enron account late in September 2001, less than a month before the SEC launched its inquiry. The government first questioned Temple after discovering an e-mail she had sent on Oct. 12. This message (sent four days before the one cited by the Houston jury) reminded a senior Andersen executive working with Enron to follow the audit firm’s documentation and retention policy — which, among other things, counseled purging unnecessary documents from files and computers. Congress grilled Temple in January, trying to establish her role in document destruction. Though she later invoked Fifth Amendment protections, Temple denied any wrongdoing. “I never counseled any destruction or shredding of documents,” she said. ‘ACCIDENTAL POSTER CHILD’ Temple’s troubles may well have stemmed from her hyperconscientiousness as a lawyer. She sent repeated legal warnings to Andersen staffers as Enron was unraveling, without considering how these messages might be interpreted by outsiders. Some legal scholars argue that the Oct. 16 e-mail, which jurors deemed criminal, was merely routine. David Skeel, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, says that the timing of the message makes it “suspicious,” but that it can also be seen as ordinary legal advice. Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford Law School, suspects the jury singled out Temple because of its distaste for corporate lawyers, making her an “accidental poster child.” Others are less charitable. “What she did was wrong, not just morally but legally,” says Lawrence Mitchell, a professor at George Washington University Law School and author of “Corporate Irresponsibility. He pointedly notes that the judge did not reverse the jury’s finding. “In this country,” Mitchell says, “judge and jury are entitled to substantial deference.” Temple may not have won over the 12 jurors in Houston, but she can at least take comfort in the steadfast backing of her friends. To show their support, they put together a surprise birthday party in April for the 38-year-old Temple, who is single. According to MacArthur, more than 80 people attended, many flying in from other cities despite short notice. The party was festive and Temple upbeat, say attendees. And they report that the verdict hasn’t altered her outlook, or her conviction that her name will be cleared. “She has not uttered one word of complaint, bitterness or self-pity,” says Bernstein, “which is pretty remarkable, since most lawyers can’t go through a day without doing that.”

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