Enron's Lay, Skilling to Be Tried in Jan. 2006

Former Enron Corp. bosses Kenneth Lay (search) and Jeffrey Skilling (search) will go on trial in January 2006 for their part in the huge financial scandal that brought the energy trading giant to its knees, a federal judge said Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake set Jan. 17, 2006, as the start date, which will be more than four years after Enron Corp. (search) collapsed into bankruptcy on Dec. 2, 2001.

The trial could last several weeks as prosecutors try to prove the two men and co-defendant Richard Causey (search), former chief accounting officer, played key roles in the financial chicanery that hid billions of dollars in debt and inflated profits at the Houston company.

Skilling, formerly chief executive officer, and Causey each face dozens of counts of insider trading, fraud and lying on Enron financial statements.

Lay, formerly Enron chairman and friend to President Bush, is charged only with a handful of fraud counts relating to the company's final months, when he stepped back into the CEO spot after Skilling's sudden resignation.

Lay faces a separate trial on charges he lied to banks regarding the misuse of personal loans.

All three have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Lay's lawyer, Michael Ramsey, had sought a speedy trial for Lay, but later argued for a December 2005 start date to accommodate Causey.

Causey wanted a later start because his smaller defense team has struggled to sort through the millions of pages of documents related to the case against their client.

"Unlike Mr. Causey's co-defendants, who have significant resources and are capable of mounting a full-scale, all-hands-on-deck defense to the wide-ranging issues in this case, Mr. Causey's small defense team is severely constrained by his limited resources and will require much more time to prepare his defense," Causey's lawyer, Reid Weingarten, said in a January legal filing.

Lawyers for Skilling had said they could be ready for trial next fall, provided the government does not alter the charges against Skilling and complies with its requests for documents by April 1.

Lake has previously denied motions by the defendants to hold separate trials and to move the case out of Houston, where the defendants argued the negative publicity surrounding Enron's demise would make it impossible to get a fair trial.