The Supreme Court ruled today that prosecutors erred in using a federal fraud law to convict former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, but left it to a lower court to determine whether his conviction should be overturned. The justices were unanimous in imposing limits on the use of the federal "honest services" fraud law that has been a favorite of white-collar crime prosecutors. In a related opinion, they also ordered a new a hearing for former newspaper magnate Conrad Black.
In an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court said prosecutors may continue to seek honest services fraud convictions in cases where they put forward evidence that defendants accepted bribes or kickbacks. "Because Skilling's misconduct entailed no bribe or kickback, he did not conspire to commit honest-services fraud under our confined construction" of the law, Ginsburg wrote. The current prosecution of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich also could be affected. (Read more Jeffrey Skilling stories.)