Wednesday May17th, 2006

Jury gets the Enron case...Sixteen arrested outside Halliburton shareholders meeting in Duncan, Oklahoma...Half of American consumers plan to cut spending this summer because of higher gas prices...

Mike RamseyA jury in Houston today began deliberating the fate of Enron founder Ken Lay and ex-CEO Jeff Skilling in a fraud and conspiracy case. Both men have told the federal jury they're innocent. Prosecutors accuse Lay and Skilling of lying to investors and employees before Enron collapsed into bankruptcy in December of 2001. Jurors will decide 28 criminal counts against Skilling and six against Lay. Defense attorney Mike Ramsey is not sure which way the jury is leaning.

"There's no way to answer that. Trying to read a jury at this stage is all voodoo."

Ramsey said is not sure how fast the jury can reach its verdict.

"That's speculation, too, but I'll speculate that it's been a lengthy case and there's a lengthy instruction and there's a very lengthy indictment which I think was written by someone with a serious nervous disorder, which I think the jury will have difficulty understanding. But, so that all implies they'll have to read all that and that means this is a diligent jury and it'll take awhile."

Ramsey only had 12 minutes to deliver his part of defense final arguments, and noted that prosecutor Sean Berkowitz finished his rebuttal with time to spare.

"It's always tough not to have the last word, if that's what you're talking, if that's what you're saying. I started to stand up and ask for his extra 12 minutes. Wish I coulda gotten 'em, because they're are answers to everything. Here's the gist of this case: there are answers to everything he said. In every issue of the case, reasonable minds can differ."

Ramsey said he's impressed with the jury.

"I think it's a very good jury and a hard-working jury. They've been on time. They've taken a lot of good notes. I have every confidence in the world they're gonna realize what I'm saying, is that the case is just shot through with reasonable disagreement, and that's what means a 'not guilty' verdict."

Jeff Skilling and Daniel PetrocelliSkilling's defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli said the jury has stacks of transcripts, audio and video and 50 pages jury instructions to consider.

"They will take their time, as has been apparent from the courtroom. They take a lot of notes, they have a lot of notes, they paid attention, there's a lot to talk about."

Petrocelli doesn't expect a quick verdict.

"I would expect that the jury is going to not jurry, not rush, and talk this through very vigorously. So I'm looking for a longer deliberation than a shorter deliberation."

Ken and Linda LayKen Lay said he feels his 16-week trial was fair.

"I think probably we got as fair a trial as you're gonna get, yes, and we're fine, we're fine. We just have...let the jury do their work, now."

Lay said he feels he got to tell most of his story.

"I think we told a lot of it. It's just too bad that so much of it continues to be distorted, twisted and turned. But that's...I guess that's just all part of our system."

The trial is the premier case to emerge from the government's four and a-half year investigation into Enron's descent into Chapter 11 protection. Lost in the company's flameout were more than $60 billion in market value, almost $2.1 billion in pension plans--and 5,600 jobs.


Sixteen people were arrested today outside the Halliburton shareholders meeting in Duncan, Oklahoma. Police first arrested a man on a complaint of destroying private property. He allegedly tore down a barricade used to keep the demonstrators in an area outside the meeting venue. Fifteen others were handcuffed and arrested as they moved toward the convention hall and ignored police orders to back away. Critics accuse Houston-based Halliburton of war profiteering, destruction of the environment and fraud. Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann says the company has done a good job of supporting American troops overseas. Shareholders of the world's largest provider of products and services to the petroleum and energy industries looked back on a year of record earnings. Halliburton earned $2.4 billion in 2005.


A securities-industry arbitration panel has awarded $22 million to a group of retirees from Irving-based Exxon Mobil. The suit accused brokerage firm Securities America of improperly steering them into high-risk investments. The three-member panel of the National Association of Securities Dealers made the award Monday against the subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Ameriprise Financial. Securities America plans to appeal. The ruling was reported today by the Wall Street Journal.


A new survey finds that almost half of American consumers plan to cut personal and family spending this summer because of higher gas prices. According to America's Research Group, nearly a-quarter of consumers say they'll definitely spend much less this summer because of gas prices, while more than half will somewhat reduce their summer spending. The research also reveals that almost 46 percent will change their vacation plans if gas prices remain between $3.00 and $3.50 a gallon.


The government is confirming the financial pain that consumers have been feeling. The Consumer Price Index rose six-tenths of one percent last month, reflecting rising costs for a variety of items ranging from gasoline to clothing and medical care. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, the core CPI rose three-tenths for a second straight month. The news comes a day after the Labor Department said its key gauge of wholesale prices rose nine-tenths of one percent last month. So far this year, consumer prices are rising at an annual rate of more than five percent, well above the pace seen in 2005. Core prices are said to be advancing at a three-percent pace, which is also accelerating.


Shareholders of Southwest Airlines met in an upbeat setting today as they reviewed earnings that have bolstered the carrier. Dallas-based Southwest earned $548 million last year. Southwest also is the only major U.S. carrier to remain consistently profitable through the industry downturn that started about five years ago. The terrorist attacks happened in september of 2001. Southwest is considering switching to assigned seating and might add international flights in a few years. Chief executive Gary Kelly says the airline is revamping its computerized reservation system to give it the capability of assigning seats. Kelly says the earliest the airline would consider dropping its first-come, first-served seating policy is 2008.


The head of American Airlines expects passengers to pack its flights this summer. But chief executive Gerard Arpey today also said the nation's largest carrier must cut more than $1 billion in expenses to offset the rising cost of fuel. Arpey made the comments at the annual shareholder meeting of parent AMR, which lost $861 million last year. Arpey says Fort Worth-based American hope to offset higher costs by raising $300 million in extra revenue--partly from fees from curbside check-in. There's also a fee for booking a flight over the phone. The rest will have to come from greater efficiency and cost cutting, but Arpey offered few details. He declined to say whether the airline would seek a new round of wage cuts from union employees.


Zale Corporation today says fiscal third-quarter profit grew 16 percent, helped by a one-time gain for the settlement of retirement benefit obligations. However, the Irving-based largest jewelry store operator in the United States forecast fourth-quarter earnings that fall short of Wall Street expectations. Earnings for the quarter ended April 30th climbed to $16.8 million. Revenue rose two percent to $526.9 million. Same-store sales rose 2.5 percent.


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