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Jury Ready To Hear Andersen Case

Jurors were sworn in Monday to hear testimony as Arthur Andersen LLP went on trial for its life for allegedly obstructing justice by shredding Enron-related documents.

The jurors, nine men and seven women, were told to return to the Houston courtroom Tuesday morning for opening statements from lawyers in the first criminal case to emerge from Enron Corp.'s dizzying collapse last year.

The jury was picked after day-long questioning of a panel that began with 106 potential jurors.

"There's nothing wrong with knowing stuff about this case," Andersen's lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, told potential jurors during questioning. "The question is whether it will affect your decision."

"I believe I could be fair but the greed of the executives still stings me," one woman replied.

"I think I could be fair but some of my clients would think I was crazy if I acquitted them," said one man.

Both were excused. None of the people questioned as possible jurors was identified in court by name.

Prosecutors declined to disclose their leadoff witnesses.

"I'm sorry, it's not public," Andrew Weissmann, an assistant U.S. attorney, told reporters.

"They're just going to tell us when they want to," Hardin said. "It's just games."

Hardin said earlier Monday no last-minute settlement between the accounting firm and prosecutors even was attempted.

"There will be a trial," Hardin said.

"Andersen's turnaround, if it is going to come at all, has to start somewhere and I suspect the firm's lawyers and executives figure the criminal trial is as good a place as any to make that start -- to make their stand." said Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

Hardin will try to avoid a conviction that could provide the knockout punch to the embattled Chicago-based accounting firm that already has been plagued by bolting clients, fleeing partners, forced layoffs and a damaged reputation.

Prosecutors said if jurors determine one Andersen employee destroyed documents to thwart government investigations on the firm's behalf, that's enough to secure a conviction.

"It's not a defense to come to court and say, 'Well, just a few people did this and there are thousands of people who are innocent,'" Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Friedrich told the potential jurors.

Friedrich referred to one former Andersen partner — David Duncan — while questioning potential jurors. He said jurors will hear from the fired Andersen employee.

Duncan pleaded guilty April 9 to obstruction of justice for directing shredding to keep documents from federal regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission. He was fired in January shortly after Andersen publicly acknowledged the shredding.

Hardin said the outcome of the case is "critically important" to the thousands of Andersen workers who face joblessness if the firm disintegrates.

"I don't think there's going to be any evidence in this case that people destroyed documents to keep them away from the police," Hardin said.

Other potential prosecution witnesses, according to Friedrich, include:

Nancy Temple, an in-house lawyer for Andersen in Chicago who sent an e-mail to the firm's Houston office in mid-October reminding workers of the company's document retention and destruction policy. Temple told Congress in February she did not instruct anyone to destroy Enron documents.

Carl Bass, a partner in Andersen's Houston office who was removed from Enron's account at the giant energy trader's request in March 2001 when he strenuously objected to some of the financial deals that later helped cause Enron's downfall.

Michael Odom, an Andersen partner on the Enron account who received Temple's e-mail and later was relieved of management duties.

Sharon Thibault, who was in charge of overseeing document shredding at Andersen and noticed a higher volume of documents being brought in trunks from the firm's office at Enron's headquarters in October and November.

Andersen is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying Enron-related audit records from Oct. 10 through Nov. 9 last year as the Securities and Exchange Commission began examining the web of accounting that may have contributed to Enron's bankruptcy.

The maximum penalty Andersen could face if convicted is a $500,000 fine and five years' probation. It additionally could be fined up to twice any gains or damages the court determines were caused by the firm's action.

The trial was expected to last at least three weeks.

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