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Lord Black's day of reckoning

Unrepentant since conviction, fraudster learns fate Monday morning

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Conrad Black won't be offering any heartfelt apologies when he appears before a judge in Chicago Monday morning to be sentenced on fraud and obstruction of justice charges, one of his lawyers said.

“Were Conrad to come up to the podium [today] and suddenly say he was sorry and apologize for any misconduct in which he may have engaged, would anybody take that as sincere in light of the trial and his positions thereafter and the positions he's going to take on appeal?” asked Jeffrey Steinback, a Chicago lawyer who will represent Lord Black during Monday's hearing. “Or would it be more principled to maintain his position and be honest about it?”

Mr. Steinback said Lord Black has “suffered in silence” since being convicted in July, but he has never shown disrespect for the American system of justice.

“He has kept his pride intact as well as he possibly can under the circumstances,” he said. “He has truly attempted to do that and not become pessimistic or bitter, and I think that he will maintain his hopeful outlook.”

Ever since a jury found him guilty on July 13, Lord Black has vigorously maintained his innocence, calling his conviction “rubbish” and “nonsense” and insisting that he has been “unjustly convicted.”

Speculation around the courthouse is that Lord Black has planned a lengthy speech for Judge Amy St. Eve. Some reports peg it at about 5,000 words.

Prosecutors have cited Lord Black's lack of contrition in arguing why they believe he should serve more than 20 years in prison. In court filings, they said his “complete failure to recognize the illegality of his actions” demonstrates that he could break the law again.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail last week, Lord Black, 63, scoffed at suggestions he has shown disrespect to the court. “I said nothing that should be offensive to the trial judge,” he wrote. “The media preoccupation with my lack of remorse seems to assume that I should go from protesting my innocence, as was established on most of the charges, to protestations of guilt and shame because a jury found against me on a quarter of the counts.”

The issue of remorse is one of many Judge St. Eve will take into account when she hands down sentences Monday for Lord Black and three other former executives of Hollinger International Inc. All four were convicted of fraud for diverting millions of dollars from the Chicago-based company. Lord Black was also convicted of obstruction of justice. They all plan to appeal.

Prosecutors have been calling for a sentence of between 20 and 30 years, but Lord Black's legal team has argued it should be closer to two years. A pre-sentence report prepared for the judge by the U.S. Probation Office called for less than 10 years, in line with what several legal experts expect.

Lord Black and the others will have an opportunity to speak during Monday's hearing and most defendants typically make statements. Mr. Steinback declined to say what, if anything, Lord Black will say.

“Conrad is, to say the least, an extraordinarily well-spoken gentleman and there is much on his mind,” he said. “Every individual has that right [to speak] but it's not an obligation.”

If he does speak, Mr. Steinback indicated Lord Black would look phony if he suddenly offered an apology to the judge. “Is it a more principled or less principled thing, if you truly believe that you are innocent, to nonetheless feign a certain level of insincere remorse simply to curry favour? Or is it more principled to adhere to your protestations of innocence?” he asked.

Former prosecutor Robert Kent, who was part of the team that indicted Lord Black, doubted Judge St. Eve will be swayed by Lord Black's public comments. However, Lord Black's lack of remorse could hurt him if the judge is convinced he might reoffend. That could translate into a longer jail term, he indicated.

Mr. Kent also doubted that Lord Black would be successful in obtaining bail while he wages an appeal, which could take a year. “There's a legal standard. It requires [the judge] to find, essentially, that there's a substantial likelihood that he's going to win on appeal,” said Mr. Kent, who works for the Chicago firm Baker & McKenzie LLP. “I don't see any issue here or any indication from [Judge St. Eve] that she believes that such an issue exists in this case.”

He expects the judge to order Lord Black and the others to report to jail on a certain date, likely six weeks from now.

Lord Black remained adamant about the case in an e-mail sent to The Globe on the weekend.

“I still expect justice to prevail, given that we pitched three quarters of the charges and the remaining counts are nonsense and will be appealed,” he wrote.

With a report from Tara Perkins and a file from The Canadian Press

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