Lessons from the conrad black trial in chicago

Conrad Black, former CEO of Hollinger International stood trial in Chicago this year. The 62 year old Canadian born, was a member of Britain’s House of Lords was charged with stealing some $60 million dollars from shareholders and was charged with some 42 counts of mail fraud against four defendants. Not only was the trial of interest because of the prominence of the multi millionaire involved, but because he chose as his lead attorney a Canadian lawyer, Edward L. Greenspan, one of the most famous criminal defense lawyers in Canada, known by his nickname "fast Eddie." The court made the defendant sign a waiver as a condition of allowing Greenspan to defend the case which acknowledged the defendant understood what he was doing. Greenspan was making his first appearance in a U.S. courtroom and was hired primarily for his skill in cross examination. Greenspan worked with American lawyer Jeff Steinbeck.

The trial took four months. The prosecution took 10 weeks to present their case. The defense took two weeks. The defense decided not to call Black as a witness on his own behalf and neither did any of the other defendants either. Legal experts were in disagreement about that decision. After deliberation the jury sent a note saying they were unable to reach an unanimous verdict on one or more counts. The U.S. District court judge repeated the "Silvern" instruction to them urging them to make every reasonable effort to do so.

It’s reported that some $100 million dollars was spent in legal fees for the defendants in the case. In the end, after nine days of deliberation, they were convicted. Black was convicted of three charges of fraud and one of obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to 6.5 yrs, ordered to refund $6.1 million and pay a fine of $125,000.

Legal observers were critical of Greenspan’s aggressive style and his "Dicksonian" vocabulary. They felt he was too tough in cross examination and may have alienated the jury. Here are some examples of the lawyering in the case. Here’s are excerpts during cross examination of the chief prosecution witness who had been given a deal by the government:

Q. The deal you have in this case is the best deal you have made in your life. An incredible sweetheart deal, but you had to give the government what it wanted?…

Q. You lied to save yourself?

A. And others

Q. You lied to save yourself?

A. And associates

Q. (with resignation) You lied to save yourself?

A. Yes

Q. To you, Mr. Radler is number one?

A. Well to me, yes, Mr. Radler is number one

A. …I wasn’t totally truthful

Q. Not totally truthful – Is that what you call it?

A. Call it lying then

During Greenspan’s cross examination of another witness who had been on the board, the following happened when the witness said he had only skimmed the reports, not carefully read them

Q. Hollinger didn’t pay you $60,000 (a director’s salary) to skim documents? They never asked you ‘Please skim this?’

Q. (Handing the witness a document) "You can read it or you can just skim it."

Here are some excerpts from the arguments given by the prosecution in the case:

"Bank robbers wear masks and use a gun. Burglars wear dark clothing and use a crowbar. But these four men – lawyers and accountants – dressed in ties and wore suits. You are sitting in a room with four men who stole $60 million and betrayed the trust of thousands of shareholders. Four men who decided among themselves their six or seven figure salaries weren’t enough."

Greenspan argued to the jury:

"The fate of no one should rest with a serial liar like Radler…The government case rested on a "few phone calls" Radler claims were made, but where are any documents to support this? Where are other witnesses? He couldn’t even remember the date when he claims the call was made…"

He went on to urge the 15 jurors that the trial was the single most important even in Black’s life. He asked them not to be swayed by the luxury, including antique carpets, marble relief’s and a holiday to Bora Bora at cost of $500,000 all paid for by the corporation. He said that outside the courtroom you may envy someone, dislike someone because of their lifestyle, but inside this room everyone is equal. America is a democracy. Its laws neither reward people fo9r their fame and fortune nor punish them.

So, the issue is: Would Black have been better off with one of the truly great Chicago defense lawyers with a Chicago jury? Was Greenspan out of touch with Chicago jurors and too aggressive? Would the outcome have been different? Observers believe the defense prevailed given what the prosecutors were after and what they got. Who knows? Not even the jurors could accurately answer these questions.

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