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The federal judge who oversaw litigation in some of the major accounting fraud scandals of the 1990s has been called upon to mediate among claimants in the Enron Corp. bankruptcy and shareholder class actions. White Plains, N.Y.-based Senior Judge William C. Conner of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York was named Monday by joint order of Southern District Bankruptcy Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez, who has been presiding over Enron’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Judge Melinda Harmon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, who has been overseeing Enron shareholder litigation. Through much of the 1990s, Judge Conner presided over suits arising from accounting fraud at the Leslie Fay Co., a major women’s clothing manufacturer. In 1997, he approved a $34 million settlement paid by the company’s officers, directors and its accounting firm, BDO Seidman. At roughly the same time, Conner also oversaw suits by insurers against Ernst & Young over the accounting firm’s certification of annual reports by JWP Inc., a large electrical contracting company. Conner found that JWP’s subsequent default was caused by post-audit business events unrelated to misleading financial statements. The 83-year-old Conner was not the first mediator to be named by the Enron judges. In their original May 28 mediation order, Judges Harmon and Gonzalez named a Manhattan senior federal judge, Kevin T. Duffy, as mediator, but Duffy recused himself the following week. Duffy said Tuesday that he bowed out because he owned stock in one of the companies involved in the case. The choice of the famously tough Judge Duffy, who presided over the trials of several of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing defendants, had engendered a mixed reaction from lawyers following the case. Many said they expected his strong hand to swiftly maneuver the parties closer together, but others said they feared Duffy’s tough demeanor could have the opposite effect. By comparison, Conner is known for his even temper and courteous manner. Duffy said he and Conner, both appointed to the bench in 1973, have “had different styles our entire official careers.” But both, he said, shared a commitment to doing “our best to achieve justice.” “Bill’s quiet but he has the tenacity to achieve the result,” said Duffy. “I think he’s an excellent choice.” “He’s a very thoughtful and careful jurist and very fair minded,” said Stephen Lowey of White Plains’ Lowey Dannenberg Bemporad & Selinger, a securities law firm that is representing sub-plaintiffs in the Enron matter. “He’s also very considerate of lawyers.” THREE GROUPS The May 28 order created three groups among which Judge Conner will mediate: a plaintiffs’ group represented by William S. Lerach of Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach; a debtor’s group represented by Martin J. Bienenstock of Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and a financial institutions group represented by Richard W. Clary of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Most of the financial institutions, including Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase, are both Enron creditors and defendants in the shareholder suits, which allege they enabled Enron executives’ fraud. Conner said Tuesday he was preparing to contact the lawyers to set up a preliminary conference. The mediation is non-binding and the parties’ amenability to settlement remains unclear. Some lawyers have argued the banks will want to end the matter quickly, while others give them good odds on appeal. Asked about the prospects of a successful mediation, Judge Conner said, “I don’t think it will be a waste of everybody’s time.”

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