Style guru's outlook bleak
Future: Martha Stewart meets her probation officer as her company's board members try to figure out how to carry on without her.
But as with many things with Martha Stewart, the drama won't likely end as many expect, analysts say.
"The number of people who serve as ardent supporters may have dwindled, but those fans that are left remain completely loyal to her," said Christopher J. Bebel, a former federal prosecutor who is now at a law firm in Houston. "She can use that as a base and build upon it in upcoming years."
The spiral since Friday's verdict has continued downward, however.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. has been distancing itself from its founder since charges were brought against Stewart. The company has said it will survey consumers about the impact of the verdict.
The board met yesterday to discuss the probability of running the business without her, the New York Post first reported. A spokeswoman for the company did not return calls.
Meanwhile, CBS Television, owned by Viacom Inc., said yesterday that it was pulling her syndicated show from 12 stations. Cosmetics maker Revlon Inc. also announced that Stewart was stepping down from its board.
Shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia continued a steady plunge, falling 8.8 percent to close at $9.90. The stock price has fallen 23 percent since the guilty verdict Friday, giving Stewart a $213 million paper loss.
Yesterday, Stewart addressed her supporters publicly for the first time since her conviction as she climbed into a sport utility vehicle after appearing before a probation officer in Lower Manhattan.
"I want to thank my readers, my viewers and the Internet users," Stewart said just before closing the door behind her. "I just want to thank everyone for their support."
Stewart and her stockbroker Peter E. Bacanovic face a maximum of 20 years for lying about selling her 3,298 shares in ImClone Systems Inc. on Dec. 27, 2001. The stock dropped shortly afterward when the Food and Drug Administration said it wouldn't approve a new drug the company had developed.
Legal experts said Stewart will likely get 10 to 16 months on the four counts of conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice. Sentencing is scheduled for June 17.
Stewart has vowed to appeal the conviction, but legal experts think it would be tough to get it overturned.
"The chances of her going to jail are pretty high at this point," said Jack Falvey, a criminal defense attorney with Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault in Boston.
Friday's verdict will also probably embolden the Securities and Exchange Commission to bring a civil case against Stewart. The SEC has a lower burden of proof than in a criminal case, legal experts said.
"It definitely hurts her civil trial to be convicted criminally," said Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, an associate dean at the Yale School of Management. "They have a great running start on the civil litigation now."
An SEC ruling against Stewart would mean she could not serve as an officer of a public company in the future. Stewart stepped down as chief executive of her company in June and serves as chief creative officer.
Experts following the case said her best strategic move would be to settle with the SEC.
"If I'm advising Martha, I don't see how sinking another $2 million or $3 million in a civil case is going to help her," said Ross A. Albert, a former SEC prosecutor and now a partner with Morris, Manning & Martin LLP in Atlanta.
Though her image is tarnished now, several business analysts believe she can eventually make a comeback in some form. Junk bond king Michael Milken, some note, re-emerged as a philanthropist after being released from a 22-month jail sentence in 1993.
The product side of the business, towels and sheets, for example, will probably be easier to salvage than the media side, which is dependent on advertisers who normally run from scandals. Media such as Martha Stewart Living Magazine will suffer the most, analysts said.