updated 4/5/2007 7:08:04 PM ET 2007-04-05T23:08:04

Enron shareholders and investors on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court for help in their effort to recoup billions they lost in the once-mighty energy company’s collapse.

Shareholders and investors filed a motion asking the court to review an appeals court’s ruling that halted their class-action lawsuit against investment banks and firms.

There is no timetable for the Supreme Court to decide whether to consider the motion.

The $40 billion suit alleges that Merrill Lynch & Co., Credit Suisse First Boston and Barclays PLC played roles in the accounting fraud that led to Enron’s collapse.

Last month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon in Houston, who had said shareholders could sue as a class.

The decision by the appeals court meant that shareholders and investors could not pool their resources to sue as a group. Attorneys general from 30 states have sided with Enron shareholders in their bid for a class action.

“The banks should be held accountable,” said William Lerach, who represents the Regents of the University of California, the lead plaintiffs in the litigation. “Beyond shielding them from redress in the Enron case, the 5th Circuit’s decision gives other corporations the green light to commit fraud without consequence in the future, threatens the credibility of the securities markets and leaves investors without any legal recourse.”

A spokesman for Credit Suisse and an attorney for Barclays both declined to comment Thursday, and a spokesman for Merrill Lynch did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

So far plaintiffs have recouped $7.3 billion, mostly from such financial institutions as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

The appeals court decision put the case on hold, which was set to go to trial April 16.

Besides Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse and Barclays, the remaining defendants include several former Enron officers: Jeff Skilling, the chief executive; Richard Causey, chief accounting officer; Richard Buy, chief risk officer; Jeff McMahon, treasurer; and Mark Koenig, executive vice president of investor relations.

The cases against Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland and Toronto Dominion Bank have not been set for trial and were stayed pending the appeal of the 5th Circuit’s ruling.

Enron Corp., once the nation’s seventh-largest company, crumbled into bankruptcy in December 2001 after years of accounting tricks could no longer hide billions in debt or make failing ventures appear profitable. The collapse wiped out thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in market value and more than $2 billion in pension plans.

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