US District Judge Melinda Harmon told the lawyers in a series of class-action suits that they have until December 2003 to prepare their cases against officials at Enron and auditor Arthur Andersen, but that she expects the claims to be settled before then.
Harmon said she was allowing 18 months for pre-trial work because of the millions of documents to be gathered and analyzed and other trial preparations to be carried out.
Also in her scheduling order, Harmon told the company to provide the plaintiffs with the set of documents it has already given Congress and the Labor Department – both of which are investigating Enron’s financial collapse and handling of its 401(k) retirement plan.
The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are conducting their own probes.
In addition to the already consolidated lawsuits most involving institutional investors such as University of California regents, several state pension funds and Amalgamated Bank, other suits involving Enron employees and retirees are expected to be consolidated in April.
In her order, Harmon confessed an ulterior motive for scheduling a relatively speedy trial. Recognizing the amount of national attention being given Enron and Andersen, Harmon said an efficient resolution of the legal claims would change “the nation’s impression that the justice system grinds slowly in a Dickensian fashion.”