Acrimony reigned everywhere on day six of The United States v Conrad Black et al. At the end of day five, it was almost as if the Blacks had decided it was time to go to war with the media to get their case across that they could not – and would not – get a fair trial in this town. Black’s case will be judged by a jury but it was the media’s jugular that the journalistic Blacks were keen on severing. The logic was bizarre.

It’s happened before – in this very same courthouse in 1969. Then, Abbie Hoffman and other Yippie activists from the Chicago Seven – accused of crossing state borders to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago – used the media to turn public opinion their way. The Black Baron said yesterday to one accredited journalist queuing to enter courtroom 1241 that he “looked like a Vietnam protester.”

He was chuffed. As were the Yippies when they performed the last great piece of anti-Vietnam war judicial theatre here all those years ago. Folk singer Judy Collins sang her testimony from the witness stand and Abbie Hoffman, dressed in judicial robes, said the court was “bullsh-t” and offered Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation) a taste of his recently cooked LSD. No-one will be taking those liberties with the feisty Judge Amy St Eve today.

But back to Bad Day Five, just outside courtroom 1241. The Black Baron’s old own paper the Telegraph told it best:

The Blacks were waiting to go down in a lift from the 12th floor courtroom when Melanie Glanz, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer, stepped in to join them. Recognising her from an earlier hearing, Black asked if she was once again going to… “breathlessly” relay word of his approach to her colleagues outside. That depended on whether he was leaving the building, she said. When Black said – incorrectly as it turned out – that he was not, (and) she agreed not to follow him. However as the lift doors closed, Lady Black, said to her: “You sl-t!” She then turned on the lift’s other occupants – two other female journalists. “You’re all vermin. I’m sick of it,” she said. “I used to be a journalist and I never door-stepped (door-stopped in Australia) people.”

“Yo kettle!” Ms Glanz is thought to have riposted to the closing lift door in the stunned 12th floor lobby. Inside the lift, Alana Black giggled and the two journalists held their noses with their fingers, like pegs. Any journalist will tell you that the worst thing that’s ever happened to them was having some other journalist ask them a bunch of damn-fool, awkward questions that were none of their business. And the best time to insult someone is just before a lift door closes.

But “Lady” Black is not just “any journalist”; she truly is “the special one”. Barbara Joan Estelle Amiel, Baroness Black of Crossharbour, was born in the seedy outer-London suburb of Watford on 4 December, 1940. Now 67, she still looks like a 17-year-old. Some put this down to witchcraft. She ran away home at 14, reportedly existing for the next two years as a “street urchin” around the sleazy streets of London. It is possible that it was during this time her vocabulary increased to include that horrid word she called her colleague Melanie Glanz the other day. Conrad Black is her fourth husband. 

Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

The prosecution painted Conrad Black as a street criminal in a suit Tuesday, while the defence portrayed him as a victim stripped of the valuable company he toiled to build into a media empire, “preyed on by people who built nothing.”

Opening arguments in Black’s fraud trial appeared to draw expected battle lines as US federal lawyers attacked the former media tycoon’s lavish lifestyle and bluntly accused him and his co-accused of stealing US$60 million. Meanwhile, his defence team extolled Black’s solid business acumen and tried to blame the government’s star witness, David Radler, Black’s former business partner of nearly four decades, as a liar and the man responsible for the alleged corporate fraud.

“This isn’t a story about a theft by Conrad Black; this is a story about a theft from him,” Black’s US lawyer Edward Genson told the jury of 14 women and four men. Twelve will make up the final panel and six will be alternates. “He was not stealing from the company, the company was stolen from him. He is innocent, and when the evidence comes in, you’ll see he’s innocent.”

On the other side, US Attorney Jeffrey Cramer characterised Black and his business associates as greedy thieves who overreached in an ambitious plan to build a worldwide newspaper empire. In laying out the prosecution case, Cramer tried to simplify the alleged fraud – involving complex so-called “non-compete” payments – making it easier to understand for jurors not familiar with corporate financial practices.

“Bank robbers use masks and carry guns,” Cramer told court, alleging that Black and former Hollinger International executives Jack Boultbee, Peter Atkinson and Mark Kipnis stole US$60 million from the company. “These four dressed in ties and wore suits.” Black is charged with wire and mail fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering and obstruction of justice. His former top executive, David Radler, will be the prosecution’s star witness and has already pled guilty in the case for a lenient jail sentence and fine.

The trial wrapped up on Tuesday with more defence arguments as the two sides prepared for Wednesday’s expected first witness for the prosecution, Hollinger International’s past CEO Gordon Paris. A former investment banker, Paris took over the Chicago company after Black resigned in late 2003 and is expected to talk about Hollinger’s corporate structure, its financial health and the internal investigation he oversaw into the company’s books. – with the Canadian Press.

Who cares?

The Black Baron says he can count his remaining friends on one hand. One is Mark Steyn, a conservative columnist who is blogging the trial for Maclean’s magazine in Canada:

Suddenly, the alternative storyline checked in. A rumor arose that Barbara had called a CBC radio reporter a “sl-t” and referred to other journalists as “vermin”. The press box leapt into full Roxie Hart hold-the-front-page mode. Pads appeared. Pens hovered. “So you’re the sl-t, right?” demanded one Fleet Streeter, anxious to nail down the story. “No, I’m the vermin,” she explained. The news was passed down the line like a Tourette’s version of Chinese whispers: “So the vermin called Lady Black a sl-t?” Which, given that Tom Bower and Peter C Newman are in attendance, wasn’t far off.

The courtroom staff, who’ve divided us into “local media” (The Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times and a couple of others) and “out of town” (the rest of the planet), seemed to resent this attempt to reclassify us as “sl-ts” and “vermin”. My Maclean’s colleague’s line will no doubt materialise in Toronto and London, but the Chicago chappies appeared to have no appetite for it. Which is a pity, as Miss Amiel’s allegedly alleged characterisation of the press seems on balance likely to endear her to the locals.