As attorneys for the government and accounting firm Arthur Andersen squared off before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, it is clear that emotions are still running high for those once connected to the venerable Big Five accounting firm.
Andersen is appealing it's 2002 conviction for obstruction of justice before the high court. The crux of the case is whether the judge's instructions to the jury in the 2002 trial skewed the jury, leading to the conviction.
The firm, which once employed 28,000 people, now employs just 200 in its Chicago headquarters, most of them involved in handling lawsuits.
This week, Andersen settled a lawsuit with WorldCom investors who claimed the auditors failed to protect them from the communications company's $11 billion accounting fraud, the Associated Press reported.
Only one former Andersen employee has been criminally charged for his role in the document shredding that occurred after the collapse Enron, a longtime Andersen audit client. David Duncan, Andersen's former top Enron auditor, pleaded guilty three years ago to obstruction and testified in the firm's trial, but remains free as he cooperates with prosecutors, the AP reported.
Other former Andersen employees had trouble finding new jobs as the stigma of the firm's conviction clung to them. Some former employees wonder why the firm is bothering to pursue ongoing legal action to overturn the conviction. It won't bring the firm back, they say.
"It might allow for a little bit of a positive sense of closure for some people, but it can't replace jobs," Jonathan Goldsmith, a former Andersen associate who runs a Web site for former Andersen workers, told the AP.
There's also a growing wave of support for the position that the firm and all its employees were punished for the acts of a few people. Briefs filed with the Supreme Court from business groups support that position, contending that the prosecution of the firm sets a dangerous precedent.
"We continue to believe strongly that the criminal prosecution of a firm of 28,000 people was unjustified, and the ensuing collapse of Arthur Andersen was an undeserved tragedy," said spokesman Patrick Dorton after Wednesday's arguments before the Supreme Court. The court is expected to rule in July.