Either they’re taking their power over four lives very seriously or...
WHEN JURORS DON’T LAUGH
Either they’re taking their power over four lives very seriously or...
Do you know what a “barbiere” is? The U.S. government’s lead prosecutor, Eric Sussman, insisted he didn’t. But, in the course of the years of work he’s put in on the Conrad Black case, he finally was confronted with
one: it’s a fancy term for a shaving stand with a basin and mirror. In Hollinger International’s Park Avenue apartment, Lord Black had a mahogany barbiere that had belonged to Napoleon during the Russian campaign. Shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits? Not exactly. It was valued at $12,500.
In the movie of the trial, Mahogany Barb-
iere will be a ballsy lady lawyer from California retained by Conrad to save the case. Or possibly a transsexual hooker from New Orleans installed by Conrad as vice-president in Hollinger’s Louisiana office. But in the grim reality of the 12th-floor courtroom in the Everett Dirksen federal building the prosecutors are forced to have such sport as they can with the shaving mirror: the shaving mirror’s cold and it stings, as the Monkees sagely observed in another context. Still, crossexamining an accounting expert called by the defence, Mr. Sussman did his best manof-the-people routine. Not only did he have no idea what a barbiere was, he couldn’t even pronounce “Guilloche.” I think it’s “Gheelosh,” like a federal prosecutor in Chicago staggering drunk out of a bar in a couple of weeks’ time and being asked whether he won that big case against the snotty Canadian lord. Anyway, it’s some kind of pattern Louis XVI
had carved into his stools. Mr. Sussman’s barbiere barbs would have been more persuasive from a man with a less ornate coiffure. I’ve spent most of the last three months sitting behind it, and the top of his head has a well-sculpted, unmoving undulation, like a Polaroid of the surf rolling in at Bora Bora during Conrad and Barbara’s disputed vacation. A month ago, the prosecutor criticized me for remarking on his hairdo, but I told him to get a wig, like the Brit courts have. The point is, if we’re going to play the effete decadent narcissist class card, Mr. Sussman is not the man to do it.
One notices during the exchanges that so enthrall the court that the otherwise inscrutable jurors do not laugh. The judge laughs, the lawyers laugh, the press laughs, the public laughs. But one or two jurors force a polite half-smile, and that’s it. Is it because they’re outraged by the evidence of Black’s lavish lifestyle? Or is it because they’re taking their jobs seriously and understand that they hold in their hands the lives (in any meaningful sense) of four men in late middle age? I’d be inclined to the latter view, but I don’t know and nor does anybody else.
Conrad’s defence started and finished in two days interrupted by a three-day weekend.
If you’re not a legal expert, you wonder how that can be. When the trial began, my assistant blocked off the calendar on the assumption that, if the prosecution took six weeks, S
then each of the four defence cases would also take six weeks, and therefore the whole thing would take about 7Vi months. But it doesn’t work like that. The government’s case took three months and at the end of it they dropped one of the 14 charges because, despite all those weeks of witnesses and testimony, they’d somehow never got around even to addressing the money-laundering allegation. The defendants’ position is that, while they’re in broad agreement on events, they dispute the interpretation the government’s put on them. In other words, it’s not like a murder
THE U.S. PROSECUTOR’S BARBIERE BARBS WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE PERSUASIVE HAD THEY COME FROM A MAN WITH A LESS ORNATE COIFFURE
case: they don’t have to produce a witness to reveal that, at the time the defendant was allegedly stabbing the victim, he was in fact in a steak house on the other side of town just finishing offhis butterscotch sundae. There’s no question about the facts—the non-competes certainly wound up in Black, Boultbee and Atkinson’s bank accounts—but there is a huge question mark over the prosecution’s characterization of those events.
So it will all come down to next week’s closing arguments. For the defence case as such, Conrad Black’s counsel called some witnesses to rebut the more vivid if peripheral charge of obstruction of justice. That’s to say, there’s no doubt that’s him on the security camera taking the boxes out of the back door of the Hollinger Inc. office in Toronto and sticking them in his trunk. But there’s no evidence that he was attempting to obstruct justice in any U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation: his law-
yers in the U.S. had only received a phone call from the SEC the day before; they made no attempt to contact their client up in Canada; and they didn’t get the written request for documents from the SEC until three days after the Great 10 Toronto Street Heist Caper. So Ed Genson, Black’s lead counsel, called some smooth Washington attorneys to the stand and introduced phone records and attempted to neutralize the impact of the defendant caught on tape snaffling out 13 boxes which, for much of the previous week, had been piled up in front of the jury—on
the unlikely proposition that a bunch of battered bankers’ boxes from Staples in attractive simulated woodveneer would serve as a searing reminder of just what a wicked and brutal crime had been committed.
And after the obstructionof-justice witnesses the Black team called our own Ken Whyte, head honcho oí'Maclean’s, to testify to... well, that wasn’t entirely clear. Apropos Barbara Amiel’s Hollinger-funded birthday bash, Ken provided some general thoughts on the importance of parties to media organizations, as if Eddie Greenspan, Q.C., had called him as an expert witness because of his scholarly monograph on The Uses of Buzz in the 1990s. And Ken also testified that the National Post was very much Conrad’s baby.
It seems incredible to have got to this stage and to have both these issues still in play. On the matter of Barbara’s party at La Grenouille, Hollinger picked up two-thirds of the bill and Conrad the rest. You can argue about the respective allocations but not that this event was a purely personal occasion Black suckered Hollinger shareholders into picking up the tab for: the guest list included Hollinger directors such as Alfred Taubman, Hollinger
executives such as Telegraph Group CEO Dan Colson, Hollinger advisory board members such as Lord Weidenfeld, Hollinger editors such as John O’Sullivan, Hollinger columnists such as the Spectator’s Taki, Hollinger business clients such as Donald Trump (purchaser of the old Sun-Times building lot on the Chicago River). It was indisputably a Hollinger occasion—to a degree. And, while one can niggle over whether the degree is 37 per cent or 58 per cent or 79 per cent, it’s a fine calibration on which to hang a decade of jail time. As for Black’s role in the National Post, everyone knows that the Hollinger empire was divided into spheres of influence:
David Radler had offices in Vancouver and Chicago but by common consent was not allowed to set foot in the Telegraph building in London. The deals at issue in this case did not occur in Quebec’s UniMedia Group or the British titles but only in the provinces run exclusively by Radler.
Perhaps the defence feel confident enough that this is all self-evident. It was generally agreed that the prosecution case had no smoking gun, only the smouldering heated towel rails of the Park Avenue apartment, with which they valiantly attempted to rouse the jury to class war. The lowliest defendant, Mark Kipnis, has all but formally slipped out of the case, the prosecution having mounted no serious evidence that he benefited from the crime or participated in it. So all counsel for Black, Boultbee and Atkinson have to do is make compelling closing speeches nailing once and for all the absence of conspiracy and criminality. Black’s attorneys have a tougher job than the others: if Ed Genson gives a closing like his extemporized opening, where he mumbles in and out of every issue sideways, the case will be lost. On the other hand, Eddie Greenspan, Black’s Canadian counsel, could give a withering refutation of the government’s case but the jury haven’t warmed to him. Not his fault: he’s a stranger in a strange land, and he’s done an excellent job in savaging key government witnesses. But the tone and the coherence of the closing statements will be the deciding factor in the defendant’s fate. Napoleonic barbiere or not, this will be a close shave for Conrad Black. M
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