Join 3,501 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


It Was All Just a Bad Dream
December 11, 2006 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Today we learn that Enron's outside law firm, Vinson & Elkins, has escaped unscathed. The Enron debacle sucked in many people, but the lawyers have so far not been held liable. But many have asked: what about the lawyers [pdf]?
posted by Falconetti (23 comments total)

 
As far as I know, no one has every looked into the culpability of the banks funding Enron. There were Enron warning signs going all the way back to the 80s when the company was first founded and almost immediately did unethical things in the oil market. Enron's true colors were always showing through, but no one did anything until the company was set to implode. Enron is a result of corruption in business, which is and has always been a huge problem. So, I'm sure Enron's law firm is also liable, but so are a number of other entities that have also escaped unscathed. So let's not pile on the lawyers, it's only fair to keep a healthy dose of outrage in reserve for the banks and all the others.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 11:15 AM on December 11, 2006


Actually, some of the banks have suffered for their sins. JP Morgan spent over 2 billion settling a shareholder fraud lawsuit and some other banks have had to fend off suits as well. But Metafilter's outrage over things is like a perpetual motion machine, so I doubt outrage exhaustion will be a problem.
posted by Falconetti at 11:23 AM on December 11, 2006


That Darn Metafilter!
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:24 AM on December 11, 2006


Won't somebody think of the lawyers?!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:25 AM on December 11, 2006


This isn't the end for the lawyers. There will be ethics complaints. That's going to go after the individuals.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:32 AM on December 11, 2006


Do you think so Ironmouth? So far there hasn't been any action from the Texas bar.
posted by Falconetti at 11:46 AM on December 11, 2006


But Metafilter's outrage over things is like a perpetual motion machine

Indeed; MeFi needs to be more like America. Our motto: Get Over It. (And if it happens again, just get over that too. Yes, and that as well. Oh, and that other thing? Get over it also. And this thing I'm about to do? The one involving your sister and some chili sauce? Wait for me to do it, then get over it.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:34 PM on December 11, 2006


Mmmmm... Chili sauce.
posted by ernie at 12:36 PM on December 11, 2006


I don't want to get sidetracked on "outrage" but it was just a joke, no need to get outraged over it.
posted by Falconetti at 12:48 PM on December 11, 2006


Derive: Are you joking? Pretty much every international bank has been sued by either Enron or in a shareholder class action. The extradition of three British bankers involved in some dodgy Enron deals caused a few headlines here in England.
posted by patricio at 12:57 PM on December 11, 2006


When do the customers who paid the exorbitant rates get their money back? So far, the rates just keep increasing.
posted by Cranberry at 12:57 PM on December 11, 2006


That's like a sheep asking when it's going to get its wool back.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:12 PM on December 11, 2006


So it'll be about a year then?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Considering the customers and shareholders got fleeced, that is a pretty apt analogy.
posted by Falconetti at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2006


So it'll be about a year then?

Sure, to grow more wool. Or, to drop the analogy, to make more money.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:29 PM on December 11, 2006


Enron is a result of corruption in business, which is and has always been a huge problem.

Enron is the result of creative thinking in an underregulated market. When someone in business figures out a new way to make huge amounts of money in a way they think won't send them to jail, they will do it. Every time. Calling it "corruption" is attaching a moral label to a natural tendency. If you want that tendency to be less attractive, you've got to make the likelihood of its resulting in poverty more credible. Good luck with that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:38 PM on December 11, 2006


patricio: It appears that I am very out of date.

Kirth: When a government regulates (attaches a likelihood of poverty to) actions, moral considerations are always a factor. If I want this kind of behavior to stop, an important first step is to get a significant portion of the population concerned about it as a moral issue, which starts the political gears turning and results in lawmaking and a general awareness of the behavior being verboten. What Enron insiders did was immoral from both a humanist perspective and a business ethics vantage; many people were harmed for the benefit of a few and the trust necessary for a business to run was breached through the violation of finance ethics. Environmental and civil law are a huge collection of moral considerations, I don't see why business law isn't to some exent. Even if this behavior is a natural tendency of powerful businessmen, the majority of people are harmed by it and will reject it if prodded or hurt sufficiently.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 2:34 PM on December 11, 2006


Calling it "corruption" is attaching a moral label to a natural tendency.

A few other "natural tendencies" for your edification:

murder
rape
torture
child abuse
war.

Oh, those tiresome "moral labels" -- always taking away our fun.
posted by jamjam at 3:06 PM on December 11, 2006


surprise for this very predictable, almost boring phenomenon seems to operate on the comical assumption that dishonest laywers end up somehow badly, when in fact they thrive -- they are the most successful ones, certainly luckier than their dimmer clients.

this is even more true in a country encumbered with a pathologically bloated number (1.2 million? more? I lost the count sometime in the late Nineties) of lawyers. that (some) of Enron's thieves got caught and their lawyers walked seems to be just another example of the same old unfunny story (unfunny for everybody, of course, but the lawyers themselves -- they're laughing all the way to the bank).
posted by matteo at 5:10 PM on December 11, 2006


When the Televised Revolution (tm) finally comes around, Lawyers will be held up against the wall right next to the Neo-cons (tm), the Rich (tm) and the Priveledged (tm).
posted by Balisong at 7:45 PM on December 11, 2006


Remember Kirkland & Ellis?

I though the author of the Slate piece went easy on Vinson & Elkins. She writes about accountants ethical obligations but what about the "crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege"?

It would be interesting to see what would flow from the attorney-client privilege being cracked open in this case.
posted by mlis at 8:33 PM on December 11, 2006


Enron is the result of creative thinking in an underregulated market.

This is nonsense. Enron engaged in textbook accounting fraud, including overstating its revenues and understating its debts. For all of the "creativity" at work, the fraud boiled down to some pretty simple violations of longstanding accounting principles, such as when you have to consolidate off-balance sheet debt. This wasn't really grey area stuff that nobody had thought to regulate.

This is why nobody has beaten the rap yet, short of comitting suicide, copping a plea, or dying of a heart attack.
posted by Mid at 9:18 PM on December 11, 2006


What Enron insiders did was immoral from both a humanist perspective and a business ethics vantage; many people were harmed for the benefit of a few and the trust necessary for a business to run was breached through the violation of finance ethics.
See, where we disagree is in the idea that "business ethics" is some kind of force, even in the absence of regulation. When the primary goal of an enterprise is the generation of profit, and anything that impedes reaching that goal is seen as a negative (and that is how Lay & company saw all those accounting principles, isn't it?) then the company that disregards those ethics has an advantage - unless regulation is in place to prevent it. My view is that whatever regulation was in place was insufficient, because the Enron Execs thought they could get away with their tricks, and because for too long, they did get away with them.

This wasn't really grey area stuff that nobody had thought to regulate.
Please think about the difference between unregulated and underregulated. That somebody "had thought to regulate" this kind of thing does not mean that it was effectively regulated. It obviously was not. Yes a bunch of ethics-ignoring executives are going to jail. Big deal. For the people who lost all their retirement funds, that can't be much consolation. Now we (and they) get to feed and house the miscreants at our expense.

jamjam, with the exception of war, none of the things on your list are done by organizations for profit. If you're implying that I somehow think the Enron mess is excusable, you're wrong. I do think it's inevitable when the government signals a general reduction in regulatory effort (which it has since the Reagan Administration), that the frequency and impact of this kind of crap will increase.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:34 AM on December 12, 2006


« Older A tribute to the 75-minute period where Tom DeLay ...  |  La Plan├Ęte sauvage... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments