The Right Kind of People

Ken Schnitzer gets off -- with a little help from his friends

Other jurors contacted by the Press said the notion that they may have used the wrong accounting standard as a yardstick made the judge's voiding of their verdict easier to take.

"I was incredulous at first. I didn't know a judge could just nullify a jury's verdict," says Daniel O'Roark, an engineer at a pipeline company. "It takes away from the jury process when they don't tell you that."

But O'Roark says that if what he has read about the case is true, and the accounting standard the jury applied was not in effect at the time of the land deals, he has no quarrel with Hittner.

"There were some other jurors who thought everything about the deal was stinky. But I thought there's nothing illegal about making a whole lot of money and nothing illegal about losing a whole lot of money. On the surface, I thought it was no big deal that they violated one accounting rule. But I came to understand that the rule was the law."

Another juror contacted by the Press, who asked not to be identified by name, professes to be unperturbed by Hittner's decision.

"I think he based his decision on a set of facts different than those set forth for the jury," the juror says.

Meanwhile, some close observers of the federal courthouse conjectured that Hittner, believing the government's case was weak, had been looking for a way to intellectualize an acquittal. What made the case different, one experienced federal trial lawyer surmises, was that Schnitzer's conviction sent "there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I" shivers through prominent social circles in Houston.

And such circles, the speculating attorney adds, can sometimes include lawyers and judges, as well as bankers and developers.

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