January 30, 2006
Profiling a City: Houston and the Enron Trial
Posted by Christine Hurt

Houston The big story this morning is the voir dire in the Enron trial, which began approximately five minutes ago.  (In Texas, voir dire rhymes with "war mire.")  Judge Sim Lake seems to be running the show and wants the jury picked by high noon tomorrow.  (NYT article here.  The Houston Chronicle is liveblogging here.)  The press seems to be siding with defense attorneys that both the timeline and the charge of picking an impartial jury are impossible goals.  (The anchors on CNN this morning were actually laughing at the thought that a fair jury could be picked today.)  As Gordon notes below, the defense lawyers are up in arms at the jury questionnaires.

So, are Houstonians "biased and prejudiced" against Lay and Skilling?  I say no, and I say that Lay and Skilling are much better off in Houston than they would be in any of the proposed cities such as Denver or Atlanta. 

1.  Houstonians are very good with recognizing substance over form.  Houston is very much a city of substance, where people are valued not by who their parents were but by what they do now.  (This is in comparison to Dallas, which is a city of form of substance.)  I think the jury will be very good at peeling away the rhetoric and the hype to see what is there and what is not. 

2.  Houstonians don't have a lot of love for the federal government.  Houstonians would rather live with less law, not more, and with less federal interference than more. 

3.  Houstonians love flawed people.  People there don't expect others to be perfect, just to be honest.  If the defendants can come across as flawed, but honest, they will win. 

4.  The jurors will not all be from downtown Houston.  The federal venire panel will come from a large circumference of Houston, so many will not be as jaded by the swift rise and fall of the two Enron towers crossing Smith Street. 

5.  The jurors will not all be from the 401(k) side of the street.  The fall of Enron was a middle-class tragedy.  Not everyone that will be on that jury relies on an employer for their retirement.  Probably not everyone believes that a person should rely on an employer for retirement.  And, probably most people that end up on the jury will not have had stock portfolios that sank in 2001 with built-up resentment for whatever unknown figure caused that to happen.  (Photo by Mayra Beltran of the Chronicle.)

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