O'Melveny Obtains Landmark Victory for Skilling in US Supreme Court

June 24, 2010


Piper Hall
O'Melveny & Myers LLP

Sonja Steptoe
O'Melveny & Myers LLP

WASHINGTON, DC ─ JUNE 24, 2010 O’Melveny & Myers LLP obtained a significant victory today in the US Supreme Court for former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.  O’Melveny persuaded the Justices that the “honest services” law on which the government based its case did not apply to Mr. Skilling because he had never been accused of acting for his own private gain.  O'Melveny pressed this argument at trial and on appeal, and the Court’s unanimous ruling not only vindicates Skilling’s position, but is one of the most important legal rulings in criminal law in recent years.  Called the “darling” of federal prosecutors, the honest-services statute had been used to over-criminalize wide ranges of business conduct not previously considered criminal.  The honest-services statute has come under significant criticism, and the Skilling case has both redefined it for years to come, and placed an important check on government power. 


“We are extremely pleased and relieved to say the least,” said O’Melveny partner Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling’s lead attorney.  “The Supreme Court unanimously decided that Jeff Skilling did not violate the honest-services law, and that ruling is fatal to the government's case.”


A team of special prosecutors had used the honest-services law to bring unprecedented and wide-ranging criminal charges against Enron defendants like Mr. Skilling.  The government was able to use these and other expansive theories to obtain convictions and secure guilty pleas against a range of Enron defendants, including the Arthur Andersen firm.  Those improper theories have now been rejected.  Ruling in favor of Skilling, the Court unequivocally held:  “It is … clear, as we read [the honest-services statute], Skilling did not commit honest-services fraud.”


The government originally charged Skilling with 35 criminal counts.  In what the media has called the “trial of the century,” O’Melveny secured dismissal and acquittal on 16 of these counts.  On review by the Fifth Circuit, O’Melveny convinced the court that Skilling's 24-year sentence was legally invalid.  O’Melveny then successfully petitioned the US Supreme Court for review of the convictions.  With the Court's unanimous ruling in hand, O’Melveny will now be in front of the lower courts again, arguing that Skilling's remaining 19 counts of conviction must be reversed.  The Fifth Circuit, in a previous bail ruling, already indicated that at least 14 of these 19 counts are infirm, and Skilling will now show that all 19 counts must be reversed.


Skilling was represented before the Supreme Court by Petrocelli and partner Walter Dellinger, with partner Sri Srinivasan presenting oral argument, and partners Jon Hacker and Matt Kline, as well as of counsel Irv Gornstein, preparing the briefs.  Skilling's trial team included O’Melveny partners Petrocelli, Kline, Randall Oppenheimer, Jeffrey Barker, and David Marroso.


The landmark decision for Skilling is the latest in a string of major High Court victories for O’Melveny clients during the 2009-2010 Term.  In June alone, O’Melveny teams led by Appellate Practice Group partners Walter Dellinger, Sri Srinivasan, and Jonathan Hacker won victories in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, Alabama v. North Carolina, and was granted cert in Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano. In February, O’Melveny won a 9-0 decision in Hertz Corp. v. Friend. Those June accomplishments come on top of other notable achievements by O’Melveny in the Court this Term related to numerous amicus curiae briefs the Firm filed, including three that were specifically cited by the Justices in majority and dissenting opinions, in Graham v. Florida, Conkright v. Frommert, and Berghuis v. Thompkins.


About O’Melveny’s Appellate Practice

O’Melveny’s Appellate Practice group is one of the nation's preeminent appellate practices.  Our appellate lawyers have collectively argued more than 70 cases in the US Supreme Court, and have written briefs in hundreds more, both at the merits and certiorari stages.  The practice is headed by Walter Dellinger, former Acting Solicitor General of the United States and former head of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.  Members of the practice include several veterans of the Office of the Solicitor General, other former DOJ lawyers, and numerous former Supreme Court and federal appellate clerks.


About O’Melveny & Myers LLP

With approximately 1,000 lawyers in 14 offices worldwide, O’Melveny & Myers LLP helps industry leaders across a broad array of sectors manage the complex challenges of succeeding in the global economy.  We are a values-driven law firm, guided by the principles of excellence, leadership, and citizenship.  Our commitment to these values is reflected in our dedication to improving access to justice through pro bono work and championing initiatives that increase the diversity of the legal profession.  For more information, please visit www.omm.com.