A federal judge in Houston yesterday wiped away the fraud and conspiracy conviction of Kenneth L. Lay, the Enron Corp. founder who died of heart disease in July, bowing to decades of legal precedent but frustrating government attempts to seize nearly $44 million from his family.
The ruling worried employees and investors who lost billions of dollars when the Houston energy-trading company filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2001. It also came more than a week after Congress recessed for the November elections without acting on a last-ditch Justice Department proposal that would have changed the law to allow prosecutors to seize millions of dollars in investments and other assets that Lay controlled.
Legal analysts said Lake's ruling closely hewed to a long-held doctrine called abatement, which allows a conviction to be vacated if defendants die before they are able to exercise their right to appeal. Courts typically rule that defendants' constitutional rights to challenge their convictions outweigh other considerations, and the law hesitates to punish the dead, the analysts said.
So that's that. According to the law, Ken Lay was never convicted, never did anything wrong.
I know, I know, it was precedent. I understand that, and I don't wanna be like the conservatives, decrying judicial activism except when it suits my politics. I understand the theory behind it, that one has the right to full access to the law, meaning not just the trial, but the full panoply of legal protections from lawful arrest through fair trial through appeals. And I think I agree with it.
At the same time, though, theory can only take me so far. I can't help but look back at the particular case, at this scumbag who robbed his shareholders, his customers, and his employees of billions, walked away with millions, and at the end of the day, there's no punishment of any kind. Even after being convicted by a jury. And now it's gonna be even harder for all the people he screwed to get any recompense.