As the legal community discussed the court-related impact of Kenneth Lay’s death early Wednesday, a preliminary autopsy on the Enron founder concluded that clogged arteries were the cause of death. Prevailing legal opinion is that his death will wipe Lay’s slate clean in the eyes of the law. History will determine the rest.

<>The lead plaintiff in an Enron Corp. shareholder class-action lawsuit is not expected to pursue Lay’s estate, according to The Times of London. The news report said the Regents of the University of California, which are the lead plaintiffs in the class action, will meet later this month to vote on removing Lay from their lawsuit.

A spokesman said the Regents don’t expect to pursue Lay’s estate, but they will continue their lawsuit against former Enron COO Jeffrey Skilling and banks that did business with Enron. The Regents also are suing Enron’s former outside law firm, Vinson & Elkins. Five of the 11 banks being sued already have settled with the shareholders for more than $7 billion.

“I do not expect that we will pursue the litigation against Mr. Lay or rather what’s left of his estate,” said Trey Davis, a spokesman for the University of California. “The final decision is up to the Regents, but I do not imagine it would be worth our while to go after what he has left behind.”

Robin Harrison, who represents some of the shareholders, said he had planned to begin discussing a possible settlement with Lay and Skilling later this summer. Harrison said Lay and Skilling were the only parties who had not either been dismissed by the court or reached a settlement. “It’s too early to tell what might happen to our efforts to resolve the case,” Harrison said.

Lay’s death also appears to have stymied any attempts by the Enron Task Force to obtain his assets, according to experts.

Lay, who was convicted in May on 10 counts of securities fraud and conspiracy, had not yet filed an appeal to his case. However, Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg said Lay’s legal team likely would have challenged his conviction. And because an appeal would have taken several years, “the general rule is that if the conviction hasn’t gotten past the first appeal, it is supposed to be abated, dismissed, conviction erased,” he said.

“Technically, he was found guilty, but that’s extinguished” at his death, added Houston lawyer Joel M. Androphy.

Just last week, the Department of Justice filed a motion in Houston to seize $183 million in assets from Lay and Skilling. Most of the assets belong to Skilling; about $43 million were Lay’s. Six years ago, Lay’s personal worth was estimated at $400 million. However, most of his worth was tied to Enron stock, which is now worthless.

Lay reported personal assets worth about $50 million when the Enron trial began last January. However, Lay’s wife Linda and his children are said to have large annuities, which will pay them an income for many years. Annuity and insurance policy income is protected from creditors under Texas law. The Lays and their children also have several homes, including Lay’s Houston home in the exclusive River Oaks subdivision. The home, in a luxury high-rise condominium project, is estimated to be worth $10 million, with the furnishings valued at $2 million. The family also has 13 vehicles, including three Mercedes and five Jeeps.

Reaction to Lay’s death continued to be muted on Thursday as earlier critics observed the maxim against speaking ill of the dead. It is believed services would be at the Lay’s church, First United Methodist Church of Houston, but no details were announced. While many individuals were reluctant to comment, Lay’s life and death drew different reactions from newspaper columnists and editorials.

The Wall Street Journal focused on Lay’s contribution to the crackdown on corporate America in recent years, culminating in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requiring stricter accountability from executives of investor-owned firms.

One columnist gave Lay credit for leading the political fight to deregulate energy markets. Another in the Washington Post lamented under the headline “Ken Lay’s Last Evasion; To Some, CEO Is Cheating Them One More Time.” Another at the same newspaper took a more charitable view under a headline reading: “Ken Lay’s Optimism was Outpaced by Reality.”

Skilling, who had no comment, said through his lawyer Daniel Petrocelli that he was “devastated by Ken’s passing…Jeff worked closely with Ken for many years. and Ken’s passing is a tremendous loss, not only to Jeff but to all of the people who worked with Ken and got to know him. He was a good man.” Petrocelli would not discuss the legal ramifications of Lay’s death.

Members of the Enron Task Force said they were shocked by the news, but they also had little comment. They would not comment about attempts to seize Lay’s property.

“This is a time for grieving for the family,” Bryan Sierra, a Department of Justice spokesman, said in a statement.

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