Enron’s Lay & Skilling on Trial

OK, it’s hard not to post something about the trial of Enron’s Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling.

Technically, of course, this (the trial) is not an ethics story. It’s a legal story. The jurors in this case won’t be asked to decide whether Skilling & Lay did something bad. They’ll be asked to decide the legal question of whether the facts presented to them support the prosecution’s charges “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

It’s easy to confuse legal issues with ethical issues, in part because there’s so much overlap. Most things that are illegal are also unethical; and many (but not all) seriously unethical things are also illegal. Further, judges (especially at the Supreme Court level) very often appeal to ethical principles to explain their rulings. I think it’s best to think of ethics & the law as two overlapping circles. Some things are unethical, but not illegal (e.g., lying to a friend about something important). Some things ar illegal, but arguably not unethical (e.g., many forms of civil disobedience). And some things are both unethical and illegal (murder, theft, assault, etc.).
It’s pretty clear (and you don’t need an ethics professor to tell you this) that what Lay & Skilling did was unethical. Whether it was illegal depends on a) the facts of the case, and b) the specific wording of relevant bits of legislation, and legal precedents set in previous court cases. That, as they say, is for the jury to decide.

Here are a few links about the Enron trial:

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: