Issue #40  1/10/2002
Sotheby's Ex-Chairman Appeals Conviction

Yesterday the Associated Press reported that Sotheby's ex-chairman Alfred Taubman had his attorneys ask for a new trial to try to overturn his conviction last month on price fixing. His lawyers are arguing that a prosecutor unfairly used an 18th-century quote from economist Adam Smith in his closing argument.

Taubman was found guilty of conspiring with former Christie's head Anthony Tennant to fix sellers' commissions, which resulted in $400 million in commissions stolen from sellers at the two auction houses. Taubman, who is 76 and apparently fond of naps and lunch (at least according to his own attorneys' defense), is seeking to avoid up to a three-year prison term (a long nap perhaps, but apparently the food is not up to Taubman's normal standards) and millions of dollars in fines.

Prosecutor John Greene quoted the following passage from a book by Adam Smith: "People in the same trade seldom meet together even for merriment and diversion, but a conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public or in some contrivance to raise prices."

Taubman, through his attorneys, is contending that the quote might have led jurors to assume that he might have done something wrong just by meeting with Tennant.

"The risk that the jury might make the impermissible leap from the mere fact of the meetings to Taubman's guilt was exponentially increased when the government decided to use quasi-expert testimony from renowned economist Adam Smith," Taubman's lawyers contended in court papers filed.

Taubman's defense team says that the jury should then have been instructed that it is lawful for competitors to meet.

Of course, the jury would have also had to ignore the testimony from the former presidents of Sotheby's and Christie's, the diaries and memos of Tennant and other damaging evidence to only rely on this "impermissible leap", but then the same words might be used for a defense such as this one.