Saturday, February 26, 2005
During a hearing on Friday, defense counsel for Bernie Ebbers stated "in good faith" that Ebbers will be called to testify on Monday. The decision is the most important one the defense will make, and may reflect an assessment that former CFO Scott Sullivan's testimony needs to be countered by more than just the defense witnesses called so far who have indicted only indirectly that Sullivan was the main architect of the fraud at WorldCom. The "honest-but-ignorant" defense is not an easy one to pull off, and the key will be how Ebbers comes across to the jury in his likely assertions that, while he is an otherwise bright person and something of a micromanager (tap water for the water coolers), he did not know about the extensive fraud in the company's accounting. Another factor that may be playing a role in the decision to testify is that the court has so far refused to grant immunity to two witnesses the defense wants to call, including former chief operating officer Ronald Beaumont. A Wall Street Journal story here discusses the defense announcement that Ebbers will testify.
The decision for Ebbers to testify could change over the weekend because the statement was not made before the jury and therefore -- at least in a perfect world in which jurors adhere to the judge's admonition not to read any media accounts of the trial -- no direct harm would come to the defense from jury expectations of hearing him testify. I had predicted in an earlier post that Ebbers would not testify, proving once again that my prognostications are better used as a negative indicator. (ph)