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Conrad Black on trial

Globe and Mail Update

Conrad Black finally gets his day in court. The former press baron has vowed to vigorously defend his name against a variety of charges that he and three other former executives took more than $80-million (U.S.) from Hollinger International Inc.

It all plays out in a Chicago, Ill. courtroom, starting soon.

Mr. Black, whose newspaper empire once spanned three continents and included hundreds of titles, has vowed to regain control of what remains of his business empire.

The trial will have its share of drama. Mr. Black's former right-hand man, David Radler, has pleaded guilty to one charge and is expected to testify against the others, who have all pleaded not guilty.

Globe reporters Paul Waldie, Jacquie McNish and Sinclair Stewart of the Report on Business have spent countless hours covering this case since the allegations first surfaced in 2003.

The three reporters were online today to answer reader questions about Mr. Black and the legal battle of his storied career.

Your questions and their answers will appear at the bottom of this page when the discussion begins.

Ms. McNish and Mr. Stewart co-authored Wrong Way: The Fall of Conrad Black, which won Canada's National Business Book of the Year award in 2005.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question. Questions may be edited for length, clarity or relevance. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Sasha Nagy, Business Features Editor, globeandmail.com writes: Thanks for joining us today to discuss the upcoming trial of Conrad Black.

There is no disputing that Mr. Black holds a unique position with the Canadian business establishment. How is this case being viewed in the United States, where the trial will unfold? Do you think he commands the same level of notoriety or stature in the U.S.? Without suggesting for a moment that Mr. Black might be guilty, it seems to me that Americans may lump this in with other notable cases like Enron and WorldCom, when in fact this case may be very different. Comments? Opinions?

Sinclair Stewart: I think if you just followed Conrad's plight through the lens of Canadian, or even British, media, you'd have a very distorted sense of his notoriety. Next to Martha, or Ken Lay at Enron, or even another Canadian, Bernie Ebbers, Conrad Black is a relative shadow-dweller. I think the fact that he was a media mogul probably engendered more press coverage than he would otherwise have received were he, say, an industrial executive-- just look at the attention he received in Australia, England, and even New York, particularly by the Rupert Murdoch-owned Post. That said, Hollinger was a tiny, closely held company compared with the likes of Enron or WorldCom -- this isn't a case of tens of thousands of employees losing their livelihoods and their pensions. As a result, there's much less hue and cry from ordinary Americans about the allegations the government has put forward--for the U.S. audience, I think it's more voyeurism than outrage.

Jacquie McNish: There is no question that the Conrad Black trial is a world apart from the WorldCom and Enron trials. But there is a link worth noting. The collapse of Enron and WorldCom unleashed a new era in shareholder activism and corporate governance that sparked the shareholder rebellion at Hollinger International and the ouster of Lord Black as the company's chief in 2003.

Sasha Nagy writes: In our "Who's Who feature on our special Conrad Black page, Paul Waldie wrote that prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald is considered "America's toughest prosecutor."

What can we expect to see from Mr. Fitzgerald? What can you tell us about what makes him so "tough."

Paul Waldie: Patrick Fitzgerald has a pretty long track record taking on terrorists, politicians and mobsters. He got that nickname from a Senator in Illinois. When the Senator was looking to recommend someone to take on the job of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 2001, he asked the head of the FBI "who is the toughest prosecutor in America". The reply: Patrick Fitzgerald. Apparently Fitzgerald is such a workaholic that he never even turned on the gas in his apartment in New York because he spent so much time at work. When he sold the place to move to Chicago, he told a prospective buyer that he could not verify if the oven worked because he had not turned on the gas.

Sasha Nagy writes: What can you tell us about the Judge Amy St. Eve. What type of courtroom does she run? How do you see her managing proceedings? Has she ever presided over similar cases?

Paul Waldie: Judge St. Eve runs a pretty tight ship. Court starts precisely on time, hearings are short and she moves things along very quickly.

She's one of the youngest federal judges in the U.S., appointed in 2002 at the age of 36. She has a reputation for being a hard worker and cleared away a huge backlog of roughly 200 cases after taking the job. By all accounts the trial should run very smoothly with her in charge.

Eye Sore from Dog Pound, Alberta writes: David Radler, Conrad Black's long-time right-hand man, will be the star witness for the prosecution. Radler was 'turned around' when he was offered a plea-bargain for a lighter sentence. Radler is said to have been diligent in record-keeping … surely, it is fair to assume that Radler, who was even closer to Citizen Black -- they were business partners going back decades, will deliver broadside after legal broadside during the trial from the prosecution side, and sink Black's defence. No?

Sinclair Stewart: You've hit upon the fulcrum, Eye Sore from Dog Pound, but I don't think it quite that cut and dried. Yes, Radler is known for his steel trap of a memory, and his pack-rat habits--he may still have office supply receipts dating back to the Sherbrooke Record, the paper that indoctrinated him and Conrad as media proprietors in the 1970s. Yet Radler is also what the legal community calls an "ugly witness." Let's not forget that he pled guilty, and that he profited from the same sort of alleged chicanery that prosecutors claim Black indulged in. Much will depend on the kind of credibility he can muster in front of the jury…Is he coming clean to save his conscience, and try to make amends for what he did? Or is he trying to weasel out of stiffer punishment by ratting on a friend? Let's not forget that Black's lawyer, Eddie Greenspan, is one of the best cross-examiners in the business. One thing is certain--it will be a veritable media circus when Radler takes the stand.

Paul Waldie: Another thing to keep in mind is that a couple of other players in this saga are co-operating with prosecutors. Ravelston Corp. Ltd., Conrad Black's former holding company, has pleaded guilty. And, Hollinger Inc., another company Lord Black once controlled, has signed a cooperation agreement with prosecutors. That may not mean much in terms of actual testimony during the trial, but they could be turning over key documents that will assist prosecution.

Douglas Bell from Toronto Canada writes: Does the fact that Black continues to be extremely litigious and appears to have resources (however diminished) cause you to pull your punches. Do the Globe's lawyers continue to be cautious in what they will and wont allow in print?

Paul Waldie: I'm not sure if Black is any more litigious than other people we cover. For my part, I can't say that I have felt any pressure from him or our lawyers to hold off.

Sinclair Stewart: I think if you asked Lord Black whether the media has held back in its coverage of him over the past three and a half years, his answer would be a resounding No. As for the lawyers, I think they're justifiably cautious with whatever we print, and want to ensure that the reporting is fair and balanced.

Jacquie NcNish: In the past, Lord Black's libel blitzkriegs did send chills through newsrooms, but its hard to think of any media outlet that is currently pulling its punches.

Terry Turl from Toronto writes: Where is Peter White positioning himself in all this?

Paul Waldie: Peter White has been a long-time business partner of Lord Black, dating back to the late 1960s. He remains a strong supporter of Lord Black and he has been involved in some of the receivership proceedings involving Ravelston Corp. Ltd. He is a part owner of Ravelston and has backed Black in some of his motions during the receivership. It's not clear yet if White will be a witness at the trial and his name has not surfaced on any of the court filings.

Sasha Nagy writes: Can you discuss the make up of Black's defence team?

Paul Waldie: Well, it is led by Edward Greenspan, who is one of Canada's top defence lawyers. Mr. Greenspan has been given special standing in Chicago to participate in the trial and he will likely be leading most of the charge in the court room. Joining him is Edward Genson, one of Chicago's best known lawyers. The two men know each other well. Mr. Greenspan's daugther, Julianna, worked at Mr. Genson's firm for several years after graduating from Northwestern University's law school. She only left Mr. Genson's firm in order to return to Toronto to work with her father.

One other lawyer involved in the case is Marc Martin another Chicago lawyer who also comes with a strong reputation.

Sasha Nagy: Thanks for your insights into this very complicated and, from the media's perspective, very compelling case. Any closing thoughts?

Paul Waldie: Thanks for joining us. This will be a fascinating case to follow over the next few months. Not only because of Lord Black's involvement but also the potential witnesses which could include Henry Kissinger, former Bush advisor Richard Perle and former Illinois governor James Thompson.

Sinclair Stewart: Thanks for the smart questions. Just to pick up on Paul's point, one of the things we didn't talk about today is the role of the board, and how their testimony -- and their actions -- will be interpreted by the jury. Part of the defence, of course, is that all the money Lord Black and others allegedly took from Hollinger was done with the express imprimatur of the directors. The board could argue it was misled, but the big question is this: how will jurists react to a board that could be perceived as remarkably lax about its duties?

Jacquie McNish: I am holding my breath for the day David Radler takes the stand. That will be the heart of the case.

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