Judge says Enron's Skilling can seek new trial

HOUSTON Fri May 25, 2012 4:49pm EDT

HOUSTON May 25 (Reuters) - Former Enron Corp Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling is reviving his quest for a new trial based on evidence his legal team received from prosecutors long after he was convicted of 19 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake in Houston, who presided over Skilling's 2006 trial following the bankruptcy of the once high-flying energy company, on Friday gave the go-ahead to his legal team to seek a new trial.

Enron crumbled in December 2001 after years of hidden debt and shaky finances fell apart. Skilling, 58, is serving a 24-year sentence on his conviction. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his latest appeal.

His lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, told Lake that the evidence included notes taken by FBI agents and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawyers during pre-trial interviews with various prosecution witnesses.

Lake said he needed to assess what prosecutors gave Skilling's lawyers before trial as well to determine whether the new evidence is weighty enough to warrant a new trial.

"My recollection is that there were millions of documents provided by the government," he said.

Petrocelli said he would have to summarize what the defense team had, but Lake said given the volume, a summary wouldn't be enough. Petrocelli will confer with prosecutors to agree on a format before he files a new trial request in late summer or early fall.

The Supreme Court heard Skilling's first appeal in 2010, invalidated one of several theories used by prosecutors to prove his guilt, and sent the case back to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for a review.

The 5th Circuit upheld his conviction, as it had once before, and ruled that the verdict would have been the same based on evidence and other prosecution theories.

Brian Wice, an appellate attorney in Houston who has followed Skilling's case, told Reuters on Friday that the latest effort could mean a third round of arguments before Lake, the appeals court and another effort to reach the Supreme Court.

"In reality, though, it could be a very abbreviated journey," Wice said. "I want to give him major props for persistence."