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Judge Denies Andersen Trial Delay

Courts: The accounting firm's attorney seeks a six-week postponement, citing too much publicity and tainted jurors. Prosecutors disagree.

April 27, 2002|From Associated Press

HOUSTON — A federal judge Friday refused Arthur Andersen's request that its trial on criminal obstruction charges for shredding tons of Enron Corp. documents be delayed six or seven weeks.

Attorney Rusty Hardin, who insisted on a speedy trial after the accounting firm was indicted in March, told U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon his client has been hurt by media coverage of the case and that prospective jurors already have formed negative opinions about the firm.

"I cannot overemphasize how unfairly we've been treated so far, not by the court, but by the court of public opinion," Hardin said. "We do think that to protect our client we have to have some breathing space."

Federal prosecutors opposed the request, saying there was no reason why the trial--scheduled for May 6--should be put off.

"This is their day in court and they just don't want it," Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Weissman said.

Of Hardin's publicity argument, Weissman added: "There is just no way that can be taken as an argument or a true real reason to postpone this trial."

Hardin contended that lawyers have examined hundreds of questionnaires from potential jurors and determined that one-third of them believe Andersen is guilty.

"I don't want another panel," he said. "I want an atmosphere that's not a hanging atmosphere."

Hardin also cited published reports that quoted unidentified sources close to the government's case divulging details. He accused prosecutors of being the sources.

Weissman denied that.

Harmon, after listening to a discussion that lasted about 45 minutes, said the May 6 trial date remains in place.

"I don't think Andersen will be in any different position in terms of publicity six weeks from now, six months from now," she said.

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