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Sunday 22 April 2007

Conrad sickened by people civil to 'the Nazis'

IT'S impossible to better Mark Steyn's summary of what happened last week in the Black trial.

"On Wednesday, we heard from Beth DeMerchant, the Torys lawyer whose advice contradicted that of Bud Rogers, the Cravath lawyer whose advice contradicted that of Darren Sukonick, the previous Torys lawyer. On Thursday, we heard from Paul Saunders, the Cravath lawyer whose advice contradicted that of Beth DeMerchant, the Torys lawyers whose advice contradicted that of Bud Rogers, the previous Cravath lawyer whose advice contradicted, etc."

On Friday, Beth DeMerchant was still at it, struggling to remember a 2001 telephone conversation with one of Conrad Black's co-defendants of which she might or might not have taken full notes.

It's been a tough week with some members of the jury unable to conceal their lack of interest and one prosecution lawyer yawning throughout.

A little light relief came when DeMerchant was asked if she recognised the handwriting on a particular memo. No, she said, but the style suggested it was Black's.

"Because it's kind of flowery?" asked Black's lawyer, Ed Gerson.

"I'd prefer to say it's assertive," she said. "It's a long sentence, it's assertive and it has many pieces in it."

This made the jury laugh, but it makes me feel like weeping: this highly-paid lawyer doesn't even seem to know what a clause is.

Mark Steyn was counting lawyers last week. For a start, three of the four defendants are lawyers, who obviously have lawyers themselves, and of course, any self-respecting lawyer has subordinate lawyers. There are many lawyers among the reporters, watching lawyers interrogating lawyers in person and by video-link from Canada. It has been up to lawyers to provide the crumbs of entertainment going and last week the prize went to one defence attorney, whose mobile phone began to play the theme from The Exorcist. A moment after he turned it off, it rang again, thus allowing another lawyer to cry "It's possessed" and reduce all the lawyers to laughter.

It was Conrad rather than Barbara Black who was cross last week, explaining to a Canadian reporter that he wouldn't talk to him anymore because he was too friendly with the prosecution: "The sight of people being civil with those Nazis is sickening."

One can see his point. At worst, he is guilty of fraud, so why is he being charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act?

To quote his loyal friend Steyn again: "Here's the evolution of Chicago justice in a nutshell: Al Capone was a mobster they nailed as a tax evader; Lord Black (if one accepts the government's case) is a tax evader they're nailing as a mobster."

Black told the press last week that the prosecution had no case and he didn't understand "what any of us are doing here". When you hear that one of the defendants was so punctilious about legal niceties that he hired a new law firm to see if the old one was too lax about the rules, you begin to wonder yourself.

For those of us who are not uncritical admirers of the legal profession, there has been some fun to be had from seeing lawyers mauling lawyers. Since much of the prosecution's case has been to make much of the Blacks' financial greed, the defence was busy showing that the prosecution witnesses were no slouches when it came to ripping companies off.

Mark Steyn again: "As I understand events at Hollinger seven years ago, lawyer Darren Sukonick was getting 50 thousand bucks for telling lawyer Peter Atkinson he could take the non-compete fee without disclosing it while lawyer Bud Rodgers got a hundred grand for telling Atkinson he had to disclose it so lawyer Beth DeMerchant got a quarter-mil to draft a corrective disclosure after lawyer Paul Saunders got 400 grand for suggesting that if they didn't disclose it shareholders might hire a lawyer and sue.

"And if the lawyer they hired was him that could get expensive. Meanwhile, yours truly was filling up pages and pages of Hollinger's National Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Jerusalem Post, Spectator, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, etc, day-in day-out for a grand total of seventeen shillings and thruppence ha'penny a week. What a loser. If I was going to go into the newspaper business all over again, I'd be the lawyer who advises the paper to fire me and free up more money for legal fees."

This week the prosecution will try to prove that an audit committee comprising an ex-Ambassador, an ex-governor of Illinois and a distinguished economist who is married to Henry Kravis, the billionaire whose firm this weekend is trying to buy Boots, were duped into approving $60 million in tax-free bonuses. Presumably they're spending the weekend consulting with their lawyers.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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