Saturday, July 8, 2006
The sudden death of former Enron CEO Ken Lay from a heart attack only six weeks after his conviction raises the issue of the health effects of prosecutions on white collar defendants who never expect to have to face a criminal trial, much less a prison sentence. An article in the Fulton County Daily Report (here) on this point is entitled, "Lay Case Suggests Health Risks for White-Collar Felons" (actually, Lay is no longer a felon because of the abatement doctrine, but that's a different question). Stress is not good for anyone, and there are probably few things more stressful, at least over a significant period of time, than a white collar investigation, criminal indictment, and trial. Indeed, the investigation may be the most stressful part, as blog co-editor Ellen Podgor points out in the article when she states, "A client once told me, ‘Thank God I finally got indicted,'" because at least after indictment the process is clear. Unlike drug dealers, for example, who understand that their conduct is illegal and there is a real risk of being arrested and charged with a crime, many white collar defendants, particularly corporate officers, are unlikely to view their conduct as obviously illegal and subject to criminal prosecution, even if that's a product of self-delusion about the propriety of the conduct -- e.g. "everyone else is doing it so it must be all right."
While a criminal prosecution may be more stressful for many defendants in white collar crime cases, the "hazards" that come with the conduct are much less than those faced by drug dealers, members of organized crime, and other criminals. The threat of violence is much greater in these areas, and I suspect the life expectancy of those people is less than a corporate executive or even mid-level employee. While the trial and conviction were not helpful, it may be that Ken Lay would have died on July 5, 2006, even if he'd never been indicted, we will just never know. (ph)