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 |
How did it happen? At some point in the last few months, it became clear that the defendant was facing a self-inflicted double jeopardy: he had to survive not just the prosecution but his own defence team. Hey, you scoff, tell it to the punk who holds up the liquor store and has to make to do with some desultory conscript from the public defender's office. Very true. But, as one federal prosecutor unconnected with the case marvelled to me, "How did this guy end up with these lawyers?"
Well, way back in March, at the beginning of the trial, the defendant told me he'd deliberately eschewed the top-of-the-heap cream-of-the-crop A-No. 1 "dream team" types because those slickers didn't need the business and so didn't put in any real effort. Dropping to the next tier would give him rough diamonds prepared to get their knuckles bruised. Hmm. As it happened, the two Eddies did turn out to be a dream team at least in the sense that, if one cast an eye over at their table on almost any mid-afternoon in the last month or so, at least one was asleep. By the closing weeks, often both were asleep, though evidently they came round at least long enough for each to send the client that last-minute invoice for an extra couple mil.
How did Black select his dreaming team? Well, he left it to his Canadian lawyer to find an American lawyer, and Greenspan chose Genson because his daughter used to work for him, which isn't the kind of thing most of us would want to gamble 101 years of jail time on. And Black chose Greenspan because ... well, that's a complicated story.
At several stages over the last four years, the defendant had had some pretty pricey legal muscle, from star litigator Brendan Sullivan to the affable Greg Craig, who defended Bill Clinton during the impeachment trial mainly because, as one commentator noted, he was a rare Slick Willie lawyer you could put on TV without frightening the children. But, when the U.S. Attorney in Chicago filed the criminal charges, Conrad Black found himself with a cash-flow problem: the feds had seized the $10-million proceeds from the Park Avenue apartment sale, and successfully tied up enough of his assets hither and yon that he didn't have the wherewithal for the big-time mouthpieces. That's a time-honoured technique of the United States government: they not only buy up the witnesses with plea deals and immunity agreements and SEC "Wells notices," but they like to ensure you don't have the wherewithal to do any legal shopping of your own. Hence, choking off the cash flow, without which your options narrow dramatically. Brendan Sullivan, for example, wanted a $25-million down payment to take the criminal case. Whether or not he would have won it for Conrad, the 10 mil from the apartment would have come in mighty handy toward the cover charge. Why did the feds seize the dough? Because, as the U.S. Attorney argued in this case, Black's purchase of the apartment from Hollinger was a theft from the company's shareholders. In case you're keeping score, the jury in Chicago found him not guilty on all charges relating to the apartment transaction. Yet the U.S. government is holding on to the money.
Just 'cuz. Because they can. And because the presumption of innocence which lies at the heart of English law is so corroded in modern U.S. jurisprudence that it seems entirely natural for the government to seize the proceeds of a "crime" before it's proved you've committed one. Just to run the numbers: the former SEC chairman Richard Breeden, in his investigation of Hollinger International, claimed that Black's "corporate kleptocracy" had stolen $400 million from the company. On the eve of this criminal trial, the government was alleging a theft of $84 million. By the time the trial began, they were down to $60 million -- or 15 per cent of what the Black gang was originally accused of looting. And at the end of the trial the jury found Conrad guilty of stealing $2.9 million -- or less than one per cent of what Breeden claimed. But Black needed many more millions just to stay in the game -- and every time he tried to access any of his assets he found the authorities had blocked his path.
So, when the indictment was filed and he required someone just to go to Chicago and represent him in court, there weren't a lot of takers. The novelty of a Canadian barrister appearing in an Illinois court arose because Eddie Greenspan was the only guy willing to get on a flight to O'Hare when the big shots in Washington and New York declined to do so. And by the time Conrad was flush enough to be a little pickier in his representation, the old professional courtesies meant that no johnny-come-lately was willing to step in and supplant Greenspan or Genson.