Deloitte Touche's procedure manuals may become as widely read in Salt Lake's legal community as John Grisham novels are everywhere else.
A federal judge this week ordered the accounting firm to turn over those manuals, called audit practice manuals, to attorneys for Bonneville Pacific investors who blame the firm for much of what they say was Bonneville Pacific's once-convincing scam.U.S. District Judge David Sam is the third judge in three different courts to order the accounting firm to turn over the manuals. A 3rd District Court judge in 1993 ordered Deloitte Touche to turn such manuals over to Portland General, an Oregon power company also suing the accounting firm and others for more than $70 million it says it lost in its brief merger with Bonneville Pacific. The judge noted that Deloitte Touche's knowledge of Bonneville Pacific's finances is at the heart of Portland General's lawsuit.
That same year, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Allen ordered the firm to turn its manuals over to Bonneville Pacific Trustee Roger Segal, who reportedly plans to seek hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from the firm.
Deloitte Touche's attempt to keep its books out of Segal's hands proved costly. Allen slapped more than $200,000 in sanctions on the firm for its refusal to produce the documents.
U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins last summer slashed those sanctions to slightly more than $100,000, but that was as low as he was willing to go. Ten days ago, he denied Deloitte Touche's motion to reconsider that decision.
After its earlier defeats, Deloitte Touche hired a San Francisco law firm to fend off its foes. But it failed to prevent the third strike against the firm.
The earlier losses carried weight with Sam. "Although the decisions of the other courts are not binding upon this court, the court, nevertheless, finds them instructive in view of the fact that these courts have dealt with the same documents under similar, if not identical, circumstances," he wrote.
Like Portland General and Segal, the investors have accused Deloitte Touche of violating commonly accepted accounting principles as well as its own standards in its audits of Bonneville Pacific in the late '80s, saying the audits were false and misleading, prompting investors who relied on them to invest millions of dollars in a scam.
The investors argued that they needed all of Deloitte Touche's audit practice manuals in order to prove that the company violated its own standards.
Deloitte Touche argued that turning the manuals over will discourage companies like Deloitte Touche from developing practices that are higher than the generally accepted standards.
That assumes Deloitte Touche's practices ARE higher than generally accepted practices, Sam noted in his ruling. The accounting firm was asking the court to accept that assumption without proof, something Sam declined to do, he said.
While teams of lawyers may be perusing the manuals freely, the public isn't likely to see them no matter how many judges rule against the accounting firm. Confidentiality orders in all three lawsuits guarantee the manuals will never challenge Grisham's position as the most popular legal read in town.