A recent piece by George Will caught my attention. In this example of prosecutorial misconduct, a marine biologist, Nancy Black, has been hounded by the federal government because she “whistled at a humpback whale”. As incredible as that situation seems, it is, unfortunately, not even rare. In particular (I bet you knew this was coming!), it has many parallels to certain Enron prosecutions. Take, for example, the hounding of Rex Shelby, a subject I have written about quite a bit on this blog (check out the “Rex Shelby” tag on the right-hand sidebar for more information on his case).
Rex Shelby, a software engineer, was hounded by the federal government for nine years before he finally exhausted the legions of prosecutors and agents sent in waves against him. In Shelby’s case, the whale was the Broadband Operating System (BOS), a software technology developed by EBS engineers. Shelby, incredibly, was charged with saying things about the BOS that had already been said and written about about by the engineers in charge of developing the BOS — things that EBS status reports clearly indicate were true. Shelby won the initial trial, but, as in Black’s case, the pursuit of Enron people had “become a matter of institutional momentum”, so the Feds re-indicted Shelby and began moving towards a second trial. Like Black, Shelby eventually exhausted the bulk of his life savings defending himself. Although, he desperately wanted a re-trial, he eventually settled with the Feds who desperately wanted to avoid a re-trial which they seemed to increasingly understand would be extremely difficult for them to win.
In this entire worthless exercise, Shelby spent more money on his defense than he was accused of making at EBS. And the Feds spent many times that amount hounding Shelby, probably in the tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money. What a terrible waste of taxpayer funds and a terrible injustice to Rex Shelby. I wish there had been someone of George Will’s stature to write about Shelby’s case back when it might have made a difference.