A legal victory for Conrad Black

Former press baron’s libel suit against Richard Breeden can continue—in Ontario


Conrad Black

Conrad Black has not had much luck with the legal system. He was found guilty of fraud and obstruction of justice in 2007 and lost his efforts to appeal last year. But even as he serves his six-year sentence in a U.S. prison, he hasn’t let up. In fact, things may finally be turning, ever-so-slightly, in his favour. Last week, an Ontario court ruled that his libel suit against his nemesis Richard Breeden—the author of Hollinger International’s scathing, 500-page investigation into Black—and nine other executives and board members can continue in this province.

On the surface, the ruling comes as something of a surprise. Once convicted of a felony, as Black has been, it’s very rare for a  person to successfully sue for libel. The defendants in this case also argued that Ontario was not the right venue for the suit, since Black is no longer Canadian, the defendants are mainly Americans and Hollinger International—the company Black was accused of looting in the Breeden Report—was based in New York. But there are some distinctions in this case, outlined in the strongly-worded ruling, which raise the curious possibility that Black, even from the confines of his Florida cell, could yet win a potentially important moral victory against his accusers.

The now infamous line from the Breeden Report was that Black ran a “corporate kleptocracy.” In excruciating detail, the report outlined how Hollinger was “victimized” by Black and a few other executives. It was the basis for much of the criminal case against Black. But in his decision, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba, noted that Black was not convicted of many of the allegations in that report, including the accusations that he presided over a “corporate kleptocracy,” took more than $500 million from the company or engaged in tax evasion, among other things. “These statements arguably go far beyond the criminal convictions that were returned following the jury trial in Chicago,” he wrote in the 23-page ruling.

“The message in this judgement is that the mere fact that you were convicted of something doesn’t give everybody else a license to smear you from A to Z,” says Roger McConchie, who heads the McConchie Law Corporation and is a top expert on Canadian libel action. “It’s pretty obvious this judge was very unhappy with that kind of argument being made by the defendants.” The ruling also underscores the fact that making defamatory statements in the United States against a Canadian (or someone who has a reputation in Canada), and putting them on the Internet (like in company press release, as was the case here) doesn’t insulate someone from the possibility of being sued in Ontario, adds McConchie.

That the suit can proceed in Ontario is a huge boost for Black. The defendants, which include former Hollinger directors like Henry Kissinger and James Thompson, argued that New York or Illinois would be a more appropriate location. That’s because in Canada the defendants need to prove that the statements they made were true, or fair comment based on the facts, whereas in the U.S., the burden falls on the  plaintiff. What’s more, Black would be considered a ‘public figure’ in the U.S. and thus would have to show “actual malice,” which means proving that Breeden had knowledge that the information was false and that he acted “with reckless disregard,” explains Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University who has followed Black’s legal case. In the U.S., Breeden could argue that what he said was true, and even if it wasn’t that he didn’t have actual knowledge that it was false. “Taken together, these make it virtually impossible to win a libel case in the U.S. against Breeden,” says Henning.

There is nothing out of the ordinary with the law in this ruling, but Black would almost certainly be setting at least one precedent by appearing in an Ontario libel suit via video-link from a foreign prison, says McConchie. But even if Black were to win a libel suit here, being awarded damages might be difficult. While Black’s conviction can’t stop him from going ahead with a libel suit, it can play a role when it comes time for a judge or jury to award damages. That’s why most people with significant criminal records don’t usually sue for libel, says McConchie. It is likely that the defendants would argue that Black should be awarded next to nothing based on his tarnished reputation stemming from the U.S. trial and all that’s been said of him, adds McConchie.

Money, however, is probably not the biggest concern for Black at this point. Even without a financial reward attached, a successful libel action would be a big step towards his oft-stated goal of redemption and repairing his shattered reputation.


A legal victory for Conrad Black

  1. “Kleptocracy” is a slur, suddenly? If you’re a κλεπτῆς and you’re wielding the κράτος, you’ve got κλεπτοκρατία. Pretty straightforward.

    • Heh. You should email that comment to Breeden. Perhaps he could include the Greek etymology of “kleptocracy” in his defense.

  2. Well nothing should suprise me about the Canadian elite and the Canadian justice system but this does. I have said here previously that people like Alan Eagleson, Bernie Eberts and Conrad would never see a day in jail if it were left up to Canadian authorities. They would be more likely to receive the order of Canada. In fact Eagleson did. We now have the spectacle of the Canadian judicial system aiding and abbeting a foreigner(remember, Conrad renounced his Canadian citizenship), duly tried and convicted by due process in another country, on matters of no concern to Canada. I guess they still have a soft spot for former Canadian elites and do whatever than can to help out, whenever they can. Jolly good!!

    • At long last, a judge who has the courage to render a decision based on the law rather than be swayed by the anti-Black press! Black never had a hope in hell of getting a “fair trail” in the US while the real crooks like Breeden and his band of lawyers lined their pockets with millions in fees for destroying what was a great company! When Black was thrown out by these self-righteous hypocrites and liars, the Holliner stock price was $18-20. Today, the company is worthless while hundreds of millions of dollars have been squandered and stolen by Breeden and the rest of the incompetents on useless and spurious litigation. I hope Tweedy Brown are really proud of themselves for starting this fiasco! They have a lot to answer for to their investors but sadly probably won’t have to!

    • A person born and raised in Canada is never truly a foreigner. S/he has been raised in our culture, and may choose to renounce citizenship for whatever reason, but cannot be said to be *foreign* to this country. Mr. Black is an old-school Canadian, a person interested in direct recognition from what is also our Queen, and was given the choice to receive that recognition only if he renounced his Canadian citizenship. He would not otherwise have renounced his Canadian citizenship, and did not do so out of a lack of love for Canada, but more out of a profound dislike of the Chrétien government of the day, which gave him no other option. If he had been born earlier, he would not have been presented with the option at all, and indeed many other Canadians have been directly decorated by the monarch without being presented with this choice, as many former Prime Ministers and Canadians have been. To call him a foreigner on those grounds is more of a technicality, purposely ignoring that what Mr. Black did is perfectly in line with Canadian history and tradition.

      • I agree wholeheartedly. The people that welcomed him into their social group when he was an important person in our business community, are the very ones that reject him now. Talk about hypocrisy!

  3. This is a truly remarkable victory for Conrad Black and very informative to me that you shoul not even bother suing for slander and/or liable in the US. Great legal team work for Black.

  4. Now if he had shredded the records like Arthur Anderson and the Enron records, the USA Supreme Court would have also let him off . Maybe the records were just going for a ride to the beach to get a little sun.

    The US Supreme Court found that the trial judge’s 2002 jury instructions were so vague that the jurors could have convicted the company for obstruction of justice for innocently destroying documents related to the Enron investigation.

  5. This is great news, what a sham his trial was. Breeden and co. charge the company $300 million to protect the shareholders from Conrad who built the company. What a joke the US judiciary is. They also froze his assets before they secured a conviction on anything, how is that justice in the land of the free. Obama is a lawyer, if he understood this case he would let Black walk.

  6. Amazing, they charged and collected $300mln to efficiently kill a company that was around for 20+ years. Where is the justice in that. It’s always the small shareholders that get screwed.

  7. I realize that a great many Canadians despise Black for no other reason that he had the guts to aim high and believed in what he was doing. The case against him in the US was the most silliest thing in the world, particularly in light of the rip offs that are happening in major corporations in the past couple of years. When Black was running Holligener it was run by someone who had a passion for the written word. His trial in the US was a sham, but I applaud him for doing his time and making use of his ‘down’ time (I suspect he is finding it a great break to have few responsibilities but to write) and for keeping up the fight to clear his name. As for all of the naysayers – I just remember that few, if any, of them have ever created something, ran a company/business, or had any leadership role in anything – so it is very easy for them to condemn someone for something that they know nothing about.

    • Calm down Maureen! You can’t just get your knickers into a twist every time someone points out the absurdity of Conrad Black as he wallows in denial of his guilt and present reality. The fact is, he stole from the rich in the USA and got caught doing it. In my book, that is not smart at all. In fact, it is pretty dumbass stupid. You accuse those who point out Lord Crossdresser’s obvious flaws and failings as persons who have never achieved anything. Well, I guess I’m one of those. Tonight I’ll sleep in my own bed with my wife rather than Bubba, and tomorrow I’ll go for a nice long walk with my puppy, then browse the bookstores in the city and maybe pop into an outdoor cafe for an ice-cream. Not the stuff of a wannabee-billionaire millionaire’s lifestyle, but a hell of a lot better than the lifestyle of the “super-achiever” Black.

      I agree, though, that his “down time” is probably good for him in the sense that he is no longer so much under the malign influence of Morticia, Lady Blackula. I argued during his trial that a few months in the slammer might make a man of him and put him on the right track to being a decent citizen. Looks like he still needs a few years.

    • Funny, Gretzki’s rich, no one dispises him.(I could name a host of others but I think you should be able to get the point, perhaps not) I could care less how much or how little someone has. As with other people, it’s the content of someone’s character that matters. Conrad has a long history of financial malfeasence starting long before his latest shenanigans south of the border landed him in the crowbar hotel. What grates on people the most however is his hypocracy as of late. Couldn’t slag Canada enough as a socialist backwater full of guttersnipes who don’t know their place. Couldn’t sing the praises of the good ole’ USA enough. That was until Uncle Sam was closing in. Then he wanted his Canadian citizenship back hoping his friend from Upper Canada College could get him sprung on a prisoner transfer deal. Sorry Conrad, out of luck, when your sprung go back to Crossharbour and lord over that.

      I also find it amusing that Conrad boosters here blame everyone else but Conrad for the meltdown of his newspaper empire. Gee, funny but didn’t anyone else notice that newspapers in general have about as much future as a buggy whip factory. This should have been obvious to him when he started the National Post. Ironically, it’s pretty much the only thing he ever actually created and it was a flop, to say the very least. Everything else he ever did was by questionable means, raiding pension funds and other financial chacanary. Conrad could be the poster boy for the mess we are in now. Far too many “masters of the universe” were acting just like him. The results were predictable.

  8. Leaf,
    Did Black fire you when he took over one of his papers. It sounds like it.

    • Well Darren, I have no idea if Leaf had the “good fortune” to be fired by Black, but my brother had the “good fortune” to be working at a paper he took over. The paper was super profitable when he took it over but no amount was ever enough. By the by, my brother outlasted Lord Tubby, and is today very comforably retired(in no way thanks to Conrad). He too, enjoys his life, browses the bookstores and sleeps in his own bed. And Darren, I’d bet dollars to donuts he’s worth more than you ever will be if you lived six lifetimes. Oh, and he did it the old fashioned way, he earned it. Wasn’t born to wealth like Conrad and didn’t swindle a million into a billion. Cheers.

    • No, Darren, neither Lord Crossdresser nor anyone else ever fired me, and I have never worked in the newspapers sector anyway.
      Before you ask, and repeat an accusation that you have already made under several guises in the past, I don’t have a secret longing for the favours of a 68-year-old product of a long process of chemical and surgical interventions, who tries and fails abysmally in her expensive quest to look 25, either.
      Ever if she genuinely looked like Scarlett Johannsen in the physical sense, the ugliness of her political philosophy, Islamophobia and contempt for anyone she sees as poorer and inferior, would repel me.
      All you Blacolytes, face the reality that Crossharbour will have to be careful not to drop the soap for the next 4½ years at least, no matter how wildly he flounders and what libel writs he issues. It didn’t work for him then, and it won’t now, either.
      Suck it up!

  9. It’s truly amazing how many people are still interested in Conrad on both sides of the fence. Let’s all let it go..

    • Why? can’t we savour the delightful pathos and spectacle of that crook stewing in the pen? Many of us waited a long, long time for him to get his comeuppance. As long as he continues to make waves rather than come clean, admit his criminal venture failed and seek to straighten himself out, many of us will reply to him and his supporters. It’s called feedback.

  10. this is a good one

  11. And Darren, I’d bet dollars to donuts he’s worth more than you ever will be if you lived six lifetimes – Wayne Moores

    Wow, you’re a real elitist eh?

    Chuck 80,
    if you want to spend your time savouring and delighting in the misforutnes of others than your life must really suck.

  12. I also find it amusing that Conrad boosters here blame everyone else but Conrad for the meltdown of his newspaper empire. Gee, funny but didn’t anyone else notice that newspapers in general have about as much future as a buggy whip factory – Wayne Moores

    Black was divesting himself from the newspaper business when the non competes were drafted. Clearly he was a visionary. Instead of Hollinger using that money to fund further growth, the money went to Breeden and co.

    This should have been obvious to him when he started the National Post. Ironically, it’s pretty much the only thing he ever actually created and it was a flop – Wayne Moores

    He sold the Post along with Southam for $3.5 billion at the hight of the market. Not a bad deal for the shareholders.

    I can’t wait to read Conrad’s book on these matters. Coming this September

    • Darren: “I can’t wait to read Conrad’s book on these matters.”

      Nor can I. It’s bound to be a bag of laughs. ROFL

      The gist: Whine, whine, I was wronged by everyone, and I’m great and clever and Obama should pardon me even if I said he was dangerous and made an improper comment about his wife’s posterior …

      I hope you enjoy reading it, Darren, and hope you can do it without moving your lips.

      Wayne Moores and his brother obviously have something that neither you nor Black are capable of grasping – an idea of what is worth having. Not least their freedom and the respect of decent people.

  13. Who cares about Conrad Black’s legal issues?

  14. April 14 2009; the comment I am referring to by Chuck 80; has been removed; I suppose others found it over the top as well. Subsequently my comment is no longer relevant to the other comments made by Chuck 80. However, good manners still matter.

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