Enron Accountant Conviction Nixed

Arthur Andersen on trial
The Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm for destroying Enron Corp.-related documents before the Houston energy company's collapse.

In a unanimous opinion, justices said the former Big Five accounting firm's June 2002 obstruction-of-justice conviction — which virtually destroyed Andersen — was improper. The decision said jury instructions at trial were too vague and broad for jurors to determine correctly whether Andersen obstructed justice.

"The jury instructions here were flawed in important respects," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court.

"This is not a terrible shock given how confused the jury seemed to be during post-conviction interviews, and it says something about how 'off' the judge's instructions were that the Court would be unanimous about overturning the conviction of the corporation," reports CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "This was about as complex a case as you can get, and jurors afterward, in interviews following the conviction, seemed genuinely confused about what the case was about and what the facts and the law were."

In other Supreme Court news:

  • The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a federal law requiring state prisons to accommodate inmate religions. Justices unanimously sided with Ohio inmates, including a witch and a Satanist, who had claimed they were denied access to religious literature, ceremonial items and time to worship.
  • The Supreme Court lifted an injunction that kept a disgruntled former client of defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran from picketing outside Cochran's office. Justices did not address broad free-speech questions raised by the appeal because Cochran died of a brain tumor a week after the case was argued in March.