Guilty Pleasure

When the Enron verdict came down, a collective giddiness swept over Houston—much of it, anyway. Can we move on now?

DURING A BREAK IN THE CLOSING ARGUMENTS at the Enron trial, in one of those awkward coincidences that private people who become unwilling public figures probably detest, I found myself in the restroom of the federal courthouse with Linda Lay. I was waiting to wash my hands behind her, and she caught sight of me in the mirror, bowed her head, and hurried to finish her task. By then she had lost any resemblance to the perky, chic combatant who had defended her husband on the Today show more than four years earlier. That flawlessly highlighted flip hung limply, and the lines in her face all headed in one direction: southward. She had the anxious, furtive air of a hunted animal. “Sorry,” she said, meeting my eyes briefly as she scrubbed. “So sorry.” She wasn’t the rich wife of a corporate mogul anymore but instead a former secretary who had lost everything she had worked for and wasn’t sure of her place in the world. In other words, she too had joined the ranks of those dispossessed by Enron’s collapse. I supposed this was what it meant to see justice done, but I took no joy from it.

In the end—the ostensible end being May 25—the Enron verdict was like the death of a close relative who had long ago been diagnosed as terminal: inevitable but still shocking in its power and finality. On the ninth floor of the courthouse, in a cavernous, paneled, fluorescently lit courtroom that had become home to so many for nearly four months, the five-year drama starring Jeff Skilling, Ken Lay, their defunct company, and the city of Houston came to a close, with guilty verdicts that were surprising only in their swiftness (the jury came back on this supposedly impossible case in five days) and scorched-earth completeness (Skilling was found guilty on nineteen counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, and insider trading; Lay was convicted on all six counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and securities fraud).

Just after the jury delivered its verdict, U.S. District judge Sim Lake, pale, thin, and scrupulous throughout the trial, delivered his judgment on the separate, four-day bank fraud trial that had begun for Lay immediately after the jury retired to deliberate. Impervious to Lay’s ashen hue and his wife’s wrenching sobs, Lake closed up shop like a judiciously polite man who was

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