Jury selection begins Monday in the federal obstruction-of-justice trial for the Arthur Andersen accounting firm. This is the first criminal case to emerge from last year's collapse of the giant energy trading company, Enron.
Andersen is accused of destroying thousands of financial documents related to its audit of Enron after learning federal officials were investigating the energy company and its financial collapse late last year. So far this year, the Chicago-based firm has lost more than 200 clients and announced it is laying off 7,000 workers.
Andersen employees say the justice department is being unfair in indicting the entire company. Mike Curtis was among several hundred of the firm's workers rallying in downtown Chicago last month. "It is just disappointing," he said. "I think it was unnecessary, the indictment against the whole firm rather than them [the Justice Department] undertaking an effort to find out who actually did bad things and acting against them."
A guilty verdict could be fatal for Andersen, since it would be barred from auditing publicly-held companies unless it received a waiver from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. An acquittal could help Andersen better fight the civil lawsuits it faces. It could also damage the Justice Department's prosecution of future Enron-related cases.
The government's key witness in the case is Andersen's former Enron audit partner David Duncan. Andersen fired Mr. Duncan in January after the firm admitted destroying Enron records. In April, Mr. Duncan pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Jury selection is expected to take just one day, with opening statements scheduled for Tuesday. The case is expected to last through the end of the month.