NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Tuesday could turn out to be a very good day for Frank Quattrone, the once-powerful Silicon Valley investment banker whose criminal conviction is now on appeal.
Within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the conviction of former Big Five accounting firm Arthur Andersen, legal experts were predicting that the unanimous decision the high court handed down Tuesday increased the odds that Quattrone could win his appeal too.
"This Supreme Court opinion was virtually written to Frank Quattrone's defense," said Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor and Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyer who is now in private practice.
"Not that (the justices) intended it that way," added Frenkel. "But it has that effect."
Quattrone's lawyers coincidentally were due Tuesday to submit a final court filing in their client's appeal, but they requested an extension until Friday in light of the decision in Arthur Andersen v. U.S.
The Arthur Andersen case "is a factor in our appeal," said Quattrone spokeswoman Elizabeth Cholis.
The two cases are unrelated, but their facts appear to be similar.
Similar cases, two convictions
Both Arthur Andersen and Quattrone were accused of urging employees to destroy documents in the face of government investigations.
Quattrone was charged with obstructing justice when he forwarded an e-mail in late 2000 urging his colleagues at Credit Suisse First Boston to "clean-up" their files. At the time, federal regulators were investigating whether CSFB, a unit of Swiss bank Credit Suisse Group (Research), had illegally given shares of hot initial public offerings to favored clients in exchange for inflated commissions.
Prosecutors subsequently accused Quattrone, who headed CSFB's high-tech banking business at the time, of trying to hinder their investigation.
Almost a year after Quattrone sent his e-mail, an Arthur Andersen lawyer disseminated via e-mail a copy of the company's document retention policy after government watchdogs began probing accounting improprieties at its then-imploding client Enron Corp. Arthur Andersen employees soon destroyed massive amounts of Enron-related documents.
In June 2002, five months after Enron collapsed, a jury found Arthur Andersen guilty of obstruction of justice. The verdict doomed the once-venerable accounting firm.
For his part, Quattrone was found guilty of obstruction of justice and witness tampering last year and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Both Arthur Andersen and Quattrone were prosecuted under a now-obsolete standard for proving an obstruction of justice charge. Both appealed their convictions.
Arthur Andersen's lawyers argued that the trial judge allowed improper legal definitions in the jury instructions that made it impossible for the defendants to get a fair verdict.
The Supreme Court agreed, finding that the jury instructions "were flawed in important respects." The decision hinged largely on the term "corruptly persuading" in federal criminal statutes and the legal standards for "criminal intent."
The high court didn't rule on Arthur Andersen's guilt or innocence. It ruled simply that juries, in order to convict on an obstruction of justice charge, have to find that defendants were aware that their actions were wrong.
"Under ordinary circumstances," wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist for the court, "it is not wrongful for a manager to instruct his employees to comply with a valid document retention policy, even though the policy, in part, is created to keep certain information from others, including the Government."
"The jury instructions failed to convey the requisite consciousness of wrongdoing," wrote Rehnquist in the 9-0 decision. "Indeed, it is striking how little culpability the instructions required."
Quattrone, in his appeal, singles out Arthur Andersen in arguing that his jury instructions were also flawed, in part because jurors were told that they did not have to consider whether or not Quattrone acted with criminal intent in order to find him guilty of obstructing justice.
"The Supreme Court's decision in Arthur Andersen will likely determine the correctness of these instructions," Quattrone's lawyers wrote in an brief filed in January before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which is hearing his case.
The Second Circuit, if it rules in Quattrone's favor, is likely to send the case back to a lower court for a possible new trial. The Supreme Court remanded Arthur Andersen to the trial court and prosecutors said Tuesday they had not yet decided whether to retry the case.
Frenkel, the former prosecutor who is now a partner in Maryland's Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Eckler, said Arthur Andersen bolsters Quattrone's case on appeal.
"I've always felt that he had a very strong case on appeal," said Frenkel. In light of Arthur Andersen, "if there's any case that's likely to be reversed, this is it."
John Coffee, a securities law expert and Columbia University professor, agreed that Tuesday's ruling could help Quattrone assuming the flawed jury instructions claims are similar.
"There is a chance here that (Arthur Andersen) at least increases the odds of Quattrone getting a reversal," said Coffee. "I won't say that it will."
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