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the Sunday Independent
Sunday 8 July 2007

Grim Black days of waiting as Conrad's fortune hangs in the balance

THE three-man, nine-woman jury have been considering their verdicts on 42 charges variously levelled against Black and his three co-defendants since Wednesday, June 27. From time to time they emerge to fevered scrutiny by the press, who hang around the elevators hoping to overhear something of note or read something into their demeanour.

"We know them all by now," wrote Mark Steyn, "the middle-aged guy with the earring, the black lady who sleeps all the time, the generously appointed blonde who pops bubblegum, the shy sweet girl who seems to have begun modelling her coiffure on Lord Black's ever-present daughter, Alana."

Black's immediate and extended family are supporting him loyally. In addition to his wife and daughter, at various times his two sons have shown up, his ex-wife and her present husband came once, and Barbara's second husband, a distinguished Canadian writer, is often around. Friends fly in. These days, with nothing in court to focus his mighty mind on, Black needs all the distraction he can get. So do the press.

There was wild excitement when - on its second day of seclusion - the jury submitted a note to the judge. Defendants, families, lawyers and the whole press corps quivered with excitement, fear and hope as the judge read out: 'Dear Judge, We will be meeting today from 9am to 4.45pm. Tomorrow, 6/29, we will meet from 9am to 1pm.'

The jury keep gentlemen's hours: 9-4.45 most days, with time off for any excuse, including the occasional 15-minute cigarette break. Weekends are free, as was Independence Day last Wednesday, though on Tuesday, they gave rise to intense and pointless speculation by rising at 2pm, and again on Friday. When they're there, though, they appear to take their duties seriously: the occasional note to the judge asking for information suggests they're looking at the small print.

The press hang about together, filing the odd story, catching up on their reading or talking about the trial.

Susan Berger, a Chicago freelancer who writes a blog (www.blacksjustic.com) with the strapline 'Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered', a well-known maxim in the tax world that translates as: "Strive with all your might to avoid tax, but if you start evading it, you're in trouble."

Such is the esprit de corps of the press that Berger held a party at her house last weekend for the hard core. The cake featured a photograph of Black, on which had been iced a scales of justice, a list of defendants and their lawyers and such familiar sayings from court as 'The buyers requested it' (re non-competes) and Eddie Greenspan's trademark 'I submit to you'. Ceremonially, she cut a slice with the 'Not Guilty' scale of justice and presented it to Mark Steyn, Black's most loyal friend.

Steyn is no wimp, but he's suffering, and is finding some of the crasser members of the British press hard to take: "I've had two conversations related to the appearance in court, for closing arguments, of George Jonas, 'foulweather friend' of the Blacks. They went roughly as follows: 'So this Jonas bloke is Barbara's third husband?'; "Second."; "And he's staying in the same hotel as they are?" "That's right." "You wouldn't know if he's in the same room, would you?" '

Having opened a book on the likely verdicts, two of the hacks anxious to cover all eventualities asked Steyn if he'd reason to think Black would 'top himself' if it all went wrong. No, said Steyn. "But why let that hold you back, lads? 'Kinky Peer On Eve Of Gallows In Three-In-A-Bed Sex Binge' is just the ticket while you're sitting through days of dreary deliberations on wire fraud."

But then, it's frustrating for reporters stuck at the Black trial, when upstairs in the same courthouse convicted racketeer Joey 'the Clown' Lombardo and three of his mafia associates are being accused of innumerable crimes, including 18 murders. It's not lost on observers that if Black is found guilty on all counts, he, like Lombardo, could serve just as long a sentence.

Black continues to see his friends and, during the day, spends a great deal of time dealing with the massed ranks of lawyers dealing with the host of civil lawsuits he's involved with. "I violated no laws," he told a journalist last week, "and, whatever happens, I will never waver in my view that I followed the only honourable and conscientious course."

Grimly on Thursday he sat through a battle in court over whether, if he's found guilty, the government would be entitled to seize the $35m Palm Beach mansion he bought in 1994, before his alleged crimes took place.

"What if you're found guilty?" asked an interviewer. "We're putting everything in place for all contingencies," he said firmly, and changed the subject.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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