updated 3/18/2004 3:15:27 PM ET 2004-03-18T20:15:27

Attorneys in the case against Enron Corp.'s former chief executive, Jeffrey Skilling, reportedly received $23 million for his defense before the government froze the assets of the highest-ranking former company executive indicted so far in the scandal, according to court filings.

Law professors and other experts were surprised at the hefty legal fees that were paid before a federal judge froze about $55 million of Skilling's assets, including his homes. His legal team includes high-profile California attorney Daniel Petrocelli.

Skilling, 50, faces 35 felony counts of conspiracy to commit fraud, securities fraud, wire fraud, making false statements to auditors and insider trading. But he also has potential legal liability in about 100 conglomerated civil cases and has been sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission and investigated by Congress and the bankruptcy examiner.

"It sounds like a lot at first. But based on the number of cases Mr. Skilling is going to have to fight it may be reasonable," Houston defense attorney Kent Schaffer said. "Just think about the millions of documents. Somebody has to read them, and nobody does that for fun."

Skilling's payment to the law firm of O'Melveny & Myers, which is likely holding the bulk of the funds in an escrow account, was revealed in legal papers filed by Enron Task Force prosecutors in a battle over whether Skilling's assets will remain frozen.

The legal fees were detailed in court filings reported in Thursday editions of the Houston Chronicle.

One issue is whether Skilling needs access to his money to meet expenses such as taxes and health insurance. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake was to consider that issue on Friday.

Skilling's filings indicate that his assets generate about $3 million a year in income, which he can't access because of the government freeze.

The firm of O'Melveny & Myers is providing four main lawyers on the trial team, including Petrocelli, who won a civil trial verdict against O.J. Simpson for the family of slaying victim Fred Goldman and is representing Disney in a dispute over the Winnie the Pooh character.

Also on the Skilling team is Houston counsel Ron Woods, a former U.S. Attorney in Houston and a former FBI agent. Woods also defended Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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