Still one day till kick-off in the Chicago Federal Court trial of the century, The United States v Conrad Black et al, and the media ruck has topped 500 already. Could this be bigger than OJ Simpson or Michael Jackson? Or is it merely media speculation fuelling media speculation?
What else is there to do in this godforsaken town? Would you believe the Federal Court building is an imposing black skyscraper in the heart of downtown? Black’s lawyers want warm and fuzzy jurors. They also want the defendant to stop using big words that we can’t spell.
The Black Baron, who once owned The Age and the SMH, pleads not guilty – by the way – to various charges of fraud, theft and racketeering. But you can tell simply by looking at him in this picture that he is guilty as sin…
Conrad Black and his wife Barbara Amiel in fancy dress. Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images
Famous last words. Colin Campbell from Macleans magazine (Canada) opines wistfully:
In the wake of a Hollinger International shareholders meeting in New York in 2002, Conrad Black found himself on the defensive. Concerns had erupted at the meeting over millions of dollars in payments he and other company officers had received from the sale of Hollinger newspapers. Afterwards, Black allegedly emailed the company’s investor relations officer, Paul Healey, asking him to do his part “stamping out” the notion that their actions had hurt the value of the company’s stock. “Two years from now, no one will remember any of this,” he wrote. The statement, outlined in evidence prosecutors plan to present when Black goes to trial on 14 March over accusations he looted Hollinger International, surely falls into that unfortunate category of famous last words.
Be careful what you wish for. The London Free Press (Canada) reports that Black’s lawyers want him facing artists, writers and others who “see nuance”, rather than blue-collar workers with a firm faith in the chain of command. Pretrial questionnaires and motions have begun to weed out prospective jurors:
If Black and his lawyers have their way, a jury of his peers will include people who “understand that there’s context to problems, that things occur within a larger scene, that things are not just the moment of time, but rather there’s a whole series of things that go on that make something happen,” said Samuel Solomon, chief executive of DOAR Litigation Consulting in New York. “They want people who see nuances, shades of grey,” such as artist and writers, he said. Prosecutors will be looking for “law-and-order, follow-the-rules types who also believe in chain of command and that the buck stops at the top.” Those could include people who have worked in the military or as police officers or teachers.
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Stand by your man. Janet Whitman from The New York Post reckons:
The Canadian-born media magnate’s wife, conservative columnist Barbara Amiel, is expected to be there to support him, as are his three 20-something children from a previous marriage. “How much time his wife and kids end up spending in court could depend a lot on whether the media circus spills from the courtroom out on to the curb”, Black’s lawyer Edward “Fast Eddie” Greenspan told The Post. As many as 400 journalists, including scores of TV camera crews, have registered with the court to cover the trial.
Black was charming and engaging. Go to Black’s old paper, The Chicago Sun-Times, to find weather “mostly cloudy, 74 degrees F” but nothing on Trial Noir. Maybe it is only big in Britain, Canada and Australia. Search. Find a column by Michael Sneed that pocketp-sses the old boss a treat. Thank you lord:
Perhaps I was sympathetic to Black’s decision to slap an $11 million libel suit in Canada against British author Tom Bower, for allegedly defaming him and for claiming Bower depicted his wife, Barbara Amiel Black, as “grasping, hectoring, slatternly, extravagant, shrill and a harridan” in … Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge. (It was published in America as Outrageous Fortune: The Rise and Ruin of Conrad and Lady Black.)
Well. I can weigh in on this one. Those words were certainly not how I’d describe the Barbara Amiel I met shortly after Black bought the Sun-Times in the 1990s. A harridan? Hardly. Hectoring? Huh? Brainy? Yes. Beautiful? Quite. But her approach was calm, almost serene. She was easy to be around and very interested in the workings of the paper, which was their new American flagship.
Amiel even called my mother once to chat. Quite frankly, she was impressive; a woman of warmth who did not British-bon mot me to death with her intelligence. And she is not much older than I am. Shrill? Grasping? Gimme a break. She was definitely a contrast to her husband, a larger than life hunk who could pinion you with his opinions and stun you with his staggering vocabulary.
Lunching with the Blacks in the old Sun-Times atrium was an earful. Black pontificated. Barbara listened … and then gently interjected. Conrad thought Hillary Clinton, who was then only the president’s wife, wasn’t worth covering. Amiel did. The subject was changed. Later, at the company’s annual dinner, Black was charming and engaging – no trace of his earlier animus.
Paint it Black in two-syllable Haiku. James Bone from The Times of London tells us:
Lord Black, now calling himself a “freedom fighter”, is also ready to take the stand. His Canadian lawyer, Edward “Fast Eddie” Greenspan, has reportedly told the grandiloquent tycoon that he will fine him $5 for every five-syllable word, $4 for every four-syllable word and $3 for every three-syllable word he uses before the Chicago jury.