Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling wants his trial moved out of Houston because one-third of area residents polled associated his name with negatives like "pig," "snake," "economic terrorist" and the "financial equivalent of an ax murderer."
Skilling's lawyers filed documents in federal court Monday asking that his case be transferred to a more neutral venue such as Denver or Atlanta.
"As much as he would like to be tried in Houston, the sad reality is that Jeff Skilling cannot get a fair trial there," said Daniel Petrocelli, his lead trial lawyer. "The community has an emotional, sociological, and financial stake in the outcome of the case and has presumed Mr. Skilling to be guilty unless proven innocent."
In the papers, Skilling's experts argue many Houstonians have not only an emotional stake but a real or perceived economic stake in Enron convictions because fines go back to the victims in this case.
Skilling, who has previously said he wanted the case moved, hired five experts to examine the publicity about Enron, the community's economic interest in the outcome of the trial and other factors. Petrocelli filed a 75-page motion with a box full of reports and exhibits with U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Monday.
The filings showed that 31.8 percent of Houston area survey respondents used negative descriptions when asked about Skilling. That was about three times the percentage of people in Atlanta, Denver and Phoenix who came up with negative responses when asked about Skilling.
"He is the devil," said one Houston-area respondent.
"Jeff Skilling is an arrogant, conniving, pompous, brilliant crook," said another Texan surveyed by Philip K. Anthony's DecisionQuest firm.
Skilling's lawyers cite "fervent, inflammatory, and demonstrably prejudicial" media coverage of the Enron cases, especially in the Houston Chronicle, as one of the main reasons the case should be moved.
They claim even in-depth questioning of potential jurors about their biases can't eliminate the latent prejudice built up over the years since the company's dramatic fall in 2001.
They compare the far more voluminous coverage here to coverage in Atlanta, Phoenix and Denver, the cities Skilling suggests for his trial.
"Citizens of this venue and the media that serve them have erected metaphoric and psychological divides between the 'evil' executives at Enron and the 'good' people they betrayed," the filing said.
Lay, who had initially hoped to get a speedy trial in Houston and by himself, said he is forced to join Skilling's motion. His attorney Mike Ramsey argued that the local press has taken leads from prosecutors and "substantially distorted and magnified" such information to an intolerable level.
Enron Task Force Director Andrew Weissmann would not comment on the filings. The government has several weeks to respond, and Judge Lake will likely hear again from the defendants and could even hold a hearing before he rules.
Skilling's request was adopted by Causey, saying he "must reluctantly ... seek trial elsewhere," and citing Houston Chronicle stories that "make it impossible to impanel a fair and impartial jury." Causey's lawyers Reid Weingarten and Mark Hulkower added New Orleans to the list of cities appropriate for the trial.