Visuals Help Jury Understand Accounting, Find Koenig Liable

More than six months of collaboration between attorneys from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and The Focal Point LLC, an Oakland, Calif.-based litigation strategy and graphics firm, was successfully concluded when a Chicago jury, on June 29, found James Koenig, former chief financial officer of Waste Management Inc., liable for falsifying accounts while engaging in “massive financial fraud” totaling $1.7 billion, between 1992 and 1997.

“This was the first billion-dollar-plus financial fraud case in SEC history, and it was critical that the jury be able to understand complicated, high-level accounting processes,” Andy Springler, founder and CEO of The Focal Point, explains in a prepared statement. “Jurors needed to visualize what should have happened versus what actually happened.”

Chris Ritter, a partner and leader of The Focal Point trial team adds, “Because of the complex concepts in this case, we held a day-long session with the legal team to develop the key themes and framework to ultimately present to the jury. We call this approach Mental Mining. It’s a process that helps attorneys identify the salient points of a case and the potential conscious and subconscious responses of a jury to those facts. We knew that the images, analogies and metaphors – both verbal and visual – were going to be key factors.”

SEC attorneys and Focal Point strategists worked together to refine the trial’s opening statements, simplify complex accounting practices through more than 150 visual displays and summarize the 11 weeks of trial testimony in closing statements. Samples of the visuals developed and used at trial can be found on the Recent Cases page in the News section of The Focal Point’s web site at www.thefocalpoint.com.

The Focal Point has worked with trial lawyers in courtrooms throughout the United States in more than 1,000 civil and criminal cases since 1989.

Chris Ritter is the author of Creative Winning Trial Strategies and Graphics, recently published by the American Bar Association (ABA).

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