Enron investors pin hopes on court

first_imgMuch of corporate America has jumped into the court fight, arguing that shareholders in companies that commit securities fraud should not be allowed to sue banks, accountants, law firms and suppliers that allegedly participated in the fraud. Allowing investors to file class-action lawsuits in such cases would “threaten the safety and soundness of individual financial institutions and the nation’s banking system,” a coalition of business groups, including the American Bankers Association, said in court papers. Firms and corporations that enabled companies such as Enron to defraud stockholders should now have to pay, lawyers for the investors say. “The banks orchestrated the fraud; they weren’t sideline viewers,” said Patrick Coughlin, the lead lawyer for Enron shareholders. “So when the question comes up about who should be on the hook for Enron, it’s the banks.” Meir Feder, a New York lawyer who defends companies in securities cases, said “everybody understands that the Enron shareholders are victims here, but there’s a reason that Congress and the Supreme Court haven’t allowed people to sue third parties.” LAWSUIT: Justices weigh a fraud case that could be a last chance for compensation. By Pete Yost THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON – The hopes of Enron investors are riding on a Supreme Court case that may be the last chance at compensation for their losses from the scandal-ridden energy company’s collapse. He added, “In the real world, for every third party who actually had a role in a fraud, you’re going to get lots of suits against other third parties who really didn’t.” When the Supreme Court hears arguments on the issue Tuesday, Enron investors will be on the sidelines. The court is dealing with a suit by Stoneridge Investment Partners against Motorola Inc. and Scientific-Atlanta Inc., which Cisco Systems Inc. now owns. Only eight of the nine justices will participate. Justice Stephen Breyer has withdrawn from the case; he gave no reason, but financial disclosure documents state he owned Cisco stock. Chief Justice John Roberts, who did not participate in the court’s decision to take the suit, has come back into it. The Stoneridge case has strong parallels to the one pursued by Enron shareholders, which the high court has left alone. The Enron suit was up for consideration June 21 at one of the justices’ regularly scheduled private conferences, but the court has neither accepted nor rejected it. “It’s easier to decide a legal issue in a noncharged atmosphere, which may have been what the justices had in mind by not taking on Enron,” Coughlin said. Stoneridge accused Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta of engaging in sham transactions with a cable television company, Charter Communications Inc. The alleged motive was to inflate Charter’s revenue by $17 million, help meet Wall Street expectations and avoid a drop in the company’s stock price. Because of a number of deals including the ones involving Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta, Charter eventually restated its financial statements, reducing revenue by $292 million from 2000-2002. In addition, four former Charter executives pleaded guilty in the matter after the Justice Department investigated the deals. Stoneridge’s efforts to recoup investment losses from Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta were turned back by lower courts, which said that the allegations were nothing more than claims that the two companies aided and abetted the fraud by Charter.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more