(CN) – The Supreme Court on Thursday found fault with two separate high-profile convictions and sent back decisions against former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling and former media mogul Conrad Black to determine if parts of their convictions should be tossed.
The justices challenged the so-called “honest services law,” which gives prosecutors authority to try cases against executives who deprive companies of their honest services.
The high court determined the law to be too broad, and that it gives prosecutors too much range of conduct when trying a case.
“Skilling, we hold, did not establish that a presumption of juror prejudice arose or that actual bias infected the jury that tried him. But we disagree with the Fifth Circuit’s honest-services ruling,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in one of the two opinions challenging the law.
“Congress intended at least to reach schemes to defraud involving bribes and kickbacks. Construing the honest-services statute to extend beyond that core meaning, we conclude, would encounter a vagueness shoal,” she wrote.
“We therefore hold that [the law] covers only bribery and kickback schemes. Because Skilling’s alleged misconduct entailed no bribe or kickback, it does not fall within [the law’s] proscription.”
In a separate ruling in Black’s case, Ginsburg said “a similar infirmity is present in this case. Here, too, the Government and trial court advanced an interpretation of [the law] rejected by the Court’s opinion in Skilling.”
Skilling, former Enron CEO, was convicted in 2006 of a host of charges, including conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors. Prosecutors said he violated the “honest services law” when he allegedly helped cover up Enron’s financial condition before its collapse. Skilling’s attorneys argued that he was trying to protect Enron and wasn’t motivated by personal gain.
Black, former chairman of Hollinger International Inc., was convicted in 2007 of bankrolling a lavish lifestyle by skimming off millions of dollars from the company and selling off many of its smaller newspapers.
His attorneys argued that the government relied on the broadly worded law, and that a jury could have convicted him even if they didn’t think he did anything wrong.