Behind the Scenes in the Skilling Appeal and the Nigerian Barge Case

I normally throttle down blogging during the holiday season to just one post a day, but I wanted to pass along something that you don’t see every day in connection with former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling’s appeal of his convictions and in the Nigerian Barge case involving the re-trial of three former Merrill Lynch bankers.

As this CNBC news release reports, the Fifth Circuit last week ordered — over the Department of Justice’s strenuous opposition — that the DOJ prosecutors must deliver to Skilling’s defense team the FBI’s notes of their interviews with former Enron CFO, Andrew Fastow.

Then, this past Friday, U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein cited the Fifth Circuit’s order in Skilling’s case in granting the Merrill bankers’ motion in the Nigerian Barge case requiring the DOJ to turnover the same notes of the Fastow interviews to the bankers’ defense teams.

The DOJ’s refusal to provide the criminal defense teams the notes of the Fastow interviews has long been a point of contention in several Enron-related criminal cases. The defense teams suspect that the notes will show that Fastow changed his story during his extensive interviews with FBI agents.

Prosecutors in the Skilling and Nigerian Barge cases have have previously refused to turnover the notes to defense attorneys and provided only a prosecution-prepared “summary” of Fastow’s statements to FBI agents.

Fastow was a key witness against Skilling and was a central figure in the first Nigerian Barge trial.

Thus, if the notes of the Fastow interviews reflect that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence or induced Fastow to change his story over time, then that would be strong grounds for reversal of Skillings’ conviction and dismissal of the remaining charges against the Merrill bankers.

By the way, the re-trial of Merrill bankers Dan Bayly and Robert Furst in the Nigerian Barge case is currently scheduled for January 28th, although the docket reflects a number of dispositive motions that must be ruled on before the case can proceed to trial.

The re-trial against the third Merrill banker — James Brown — has been severed for a separate trial, which has not yet been scheduled.

Finally, Skilling’s appellate team filed his reply brief this past Friday, although my sense is that the document that was filed will likely not be the final version. As with Skilling’s first brief, the Skilling team has requested that the Fifth Circuit waive its page limitations for reply briefs. Consequently, once the Fifth Circuit rules on that request, the Skilling team will probably then file the final version of the reply brief, which will include tables of contents and authorities that the current version lacks.

I am looking forward to reading the brief over the holidays and will pass along my thoughts after I have done so. In the meantime, both Ellen Podgor and Doug Berman have already posted their typically insightful thoughts on the brief.

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