The Black Trial: The human drama the jury didn't see
Had Black taken the stand, he could have shown the jury a man in full, warts and all
MARK STEYN | July 30, 2007 |
Just before the case went to the jury, Conrad Black's two lead attorneys sent him a demand for an additional million bucks each. No messing around with billable hours and 15-minute increments and $27.59 for photocopying: just a nice round seven-figure sum by way of supplementary retainer.
A day or two before closing arguments to the 12 men and women who'll decide your fate is no time to pick a quarrel with your lawyers. Or, at any rate, yet another quarrel to add to those you're already having, and they're having with each other, and the American lawyer's associates are having with the Canadian lawyer, and the Canadian lawyer is having with his own associates, and your wife is having with all of them. So Conrad paid up. After all, what's another seven-figure sum here or there? In the Hollinger meltdown, it's chump change in the scheme of things: what's left of Lord Black's former company has sluiced a nine-figure sum to its legal "advisers," and, back in the good old days when Richard Breeden was penning lurid reports on Hollinger's "corporate kleptocracy", the fallen media baron was accused of looting the best part of half a 10-figure sum. In the end, after four years, he was found guilty of stealing $2.9 million -- or about what he's spent on lawyers this last month, and a fraction of what the taxpayers of the United States have paid up in order to nail him.
Like most non-lawyers, I always figured there must be a reason why these guys command huge fees. Granted, if you're up against the resources of the state, you certainly need someone to fillet the hundreds of thousands of memos and faxes and find the exculpatory phrase or the mitigating circumstance. And it helps to have someone who can bring up the precedent of Regina vs. Jones in 1937 ... But by the time it all winds up in court, there seems a lot less to it than meets the eye. When it was over, Pat Tuite, an old Windy City lawyer representing Hollinger money man Jack Boultbee, shrugged, "It's show business," sounding for all the world like Richard Gere in the movie Chicago about to give 'em the old razzle-dazzle. At the close of the trial, Judge Amy St. Eve gave a little speech saying that rarely had she had the opportunity to listen to lawyers of such brilliance on all sides. In a moment Bob Fosse and the rest of Chicago's creators would have appreciated, the U.S. marshal sitting across the aisle from me mouthed along with her allegedly heartfelt impromptu paean word for word.
Alas, in the real Chicago, the razzling was less than dazzling. Lord Black of Crossharbour is now a convicted felon. And those of us who believe he's innocent of any crime have to acknowledge that reality. Whether the felon himself does is another matter. In the 48 hours after the verdict, he sent multiple emails to friends and members of the media: "This war has gone on for nearly four years and the original allegations have been worn down to a fraction of where they started," he wrote. Of the 13 charges against him, he was found not guilty of nine. "We got rid of most of them," he said, "and expect to get rid of the rest on appeal."
And if this was a soccer match he'd be right: Crossharbour 9, Northern District of Illinois 4. A cracking victory.
But it's not soccer. With multiple counts attracting long jail sentences and severe financial penalties, the government only needs to put one ball in the back of the net to ruin your life. This they did. And "legal experts" in the United States think Conrad Black is making things worse for himself by making dismissive remarks about having this "tiresome miscarriage of justice" reversed in the court of appeals. When it comes to sentencing at the end of November, Judge Amy will look on the convicted fraudster and obstructer of justice as she would any low-life murderer or rapist: is he showing any contrition for his crime? According to the analysts, loftily brushing it aside as a "tiresome" technicality to "get rid of" is a good way to wind up serving the maximum 35 years rather than five, with three suspended.
They're missing his point. Conrad maintains his innocence, and in that sense 35 years of mailbag-sewing and licence-plate hammering in a Midwestern dungeon or six months of "golf therapy" and community theatre in a David Radler-style British Columbia country club makes no difference: it's not the loss of his liberty, it's the loss of his reputation. To extend the drearily predictable Shakespearean comparisons, if Lady Black is(as routinely sneered)Lady Macbeth, Conrad is Othello(and Alana is Cordelia). Not for the first time, those legal analysts don't understand Lord Black: he's acting in accordance with his deepest conviction, not his criminal conviction. And not for the first time, Conrad Black doesn't understand the U.S. justice system, where every day innocent men plead guilty to something, anything just to make the government bugger off and destroy some other fellow's life.