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Could Bush pardon be Black's ticket out?

As the press baron's legal team puts finishing touches on his appeal, his lawyers aren't ruling out an intervention from the U.S. President

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

COLEMAN, FLA. — Conrad Black may have one last trick up his sleeve to get out of jail: a pardon from U.S. President George W. Bush.

While Lord Black, 63, spent his first night in prison, his legal team put the finishing touches on an appeal of his conviction for fraud and obstruction of justice. They plan to file the papers next week in a Chicago appellate court.

But his lawyers are also not ruling out the possibility of seeking a pardon from Mr. Bush, who could commute Lord Black's sentence.

"You never know," Andrew Frey, a New York attorney heading Lord Black's appeal, said in an e-mail, "but we're focusing for now on the appeal."

When pressed about whether a pardon was an option, Mr. Frey replied: "Who knows? It's just not something we're thinking about at this time."

None of this matters much to Lord Black right now. He will be spending the next few days familiarizing himself with the Coleman Federal Correction Complex, where he reported at noon yesterday to begin serving a 61/2-year sentence.

Lord Black arrived at the prison in a Cadillac Escalade SUV, sitting in the back with his wife, Barbara Amiel Black. The couple spent about 30 minutes together before Lord Black went inside the prison and the SUV drove off with Lady Black in the back seat.

Coleman is one of the largest prisons in the United States, with more than 7,000 inmates in low-, medium- and maximum-security units. Lord Black will be serving his time in the low-security wing, which has about 2,000 prisoners housed in a series of dormitories. Each dorm holds about 100 inmates in small cubicles.

Upon arrival at the prison, Lord Black was photographed, fingerprinted and issued four pairs of pants, four shirts and four pairs of socks, according to a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman. He also went through medical and psychological screening and met with a case manager.

Lord Black will be given an orientation program over the next few days while the prison assigns him a job. Most new inmates start out in the kitchen, where they help serve food, prepare meals and clean up for 12 cents an hour. They can graduate to other jobs, such as grounds maintenance, being an orderly or working in one of the prison's two libraries.

While Lord Black has expressed an interest in teaching, BOP spokeswoman Felicia Ponce said inmates are generally not permitted to teach. "Teachers are our staff or people on contract," she said.

Lord Black has insisted that his appeal will be successful and that he will be acquitted on all charges. A presidential pardon, however, is the next best thing.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the president can grant "reprieves and pardons" for all offences against the United States. The president can issue a pardon or commutation for any reason and at any stage in the legal process. The power is so broad, advance pardons can be granted to people who may be the subject of criminal charges in future.

Some legal experts say Lord Black's lawyers will almost certainly explore the option, especially since Mr. Bush leaves office early next year. On his last day in office, president Bill Clinton issued 140 pardons and 36 commutations, including a controversial pardon for financier Mark Rich, who was wanted on tax evasion charges.

"It's very plausible that as soon as the election ends, President Bush could commute or issue a pardon," to Lord Black, said Jacob Frenkel, a former U.S. prosecutor who now works for a law firm in Washington.

Mr. Frenkel said Mr. Bush may have an added incentive in Lord Black's case because of the involvement of Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Mr. Fitzgerald's team prosecuted Lord Black and he was also the special prosecutor in the high-profile case against Lewis (Scooter) Libby, former chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Fitzgerald's aggressive tactics resulted in a conviction for Mr. Libby on charges of lying to investigators during their probe into who leaked the identity of a CIA operative. Mr. Bush criticized the punishment and commuted Mr. Libby's sentence a few months later, effectively sparing him from prison.

"There is added emotional incentive [for Mr. Bush] to stick it right to the prosecutor," Mr. Frenkel said.

He added that Lord Black also has the political and business connections to lobby the President.

But John Coffee, a law professor at Columbia University in New York, doubts Lord Black will be successful.

Mr. Coffee said Mr. Bush has actually followed procedure carefully in his pardons. Pardon requests are made to the Department of Justice, which then makes a recommendation to the President. Mr. Coffee said that while the President can ultimately do what he wants, Mr. Bush has stuck closely to the recommendations.

He also said Mr. Bush may have many others in mind for pardons and commutations on his last day in office. When asked about Lord Black's chances of being on the list, Mr. Coffee said, "I think it's a long shot."

Mr. Frey has also raised the possibility that Lord Black could be released on bail once the appeal arguments are heard in June.

But others doubt that will happen and they say that Lord Black's appeal has raised issues similar to other cases that are before the court. If the court waits for those rulings before deciding on Lord Black's case, the appeal could drag on for months.

A day at Coleman

6 a.m.: Lights on. Prison guard walks through dormitory shouting to wake inmates, who begin a mad dash to the sinks, toilets, showers and then breakfast.

6:45: Last call for breakfast.

7: Deadline for each inmate to have bunk tidied and made to military standards.

7:30: Inmates report for morning's work assignment.

10:30: Inmates report back to

dormitory for head count before heading to lunch.

11:15: Last call for lunch. Free time to clean up.

12 p.m. Work call. Inmates report back to job site.

3:30: End of work day. Inmates hand in tools, return to dorm.

4: Pair of guards conduct standing head count in each dorm. Mail call. Letters, magazines and books handed out to inmates.

4:30: Dinner, followed by free time. TV room, recreation yard, arts and crafts room, library, visitors room and inmate telephone system all open for use.

9:30: Inmates recalled to dorms.

10: Head count.

10:30: Lights out.

3 a.m., 5 a.m.: Head counts performed while inmates in bunks.

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