TORONTO – In an unexpected turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it has agreed to review the fraud conviction of the fallen media baron Conrad Black.
The decision caught many legal experts who have followed the case by surprise. “For the first time in a long time the stars are beginning to align, or there’s a potential that the stars will realign, in Conrad Black’s favour,” Jacob Frenkel, a former U.S. federal prosecutor said in an interview.
Frenkel, a Maryland-based lawyer who has followed Black’s case, said that with all the petitions that are filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, “it is rare that a petition is accepted.”
America’s highest court justices will hear arguments later this year over the convictions of Black, the former chairman and chief executive of the Hollinger International media company, and two other former executives in connection with payments of US$5.5 million they received from a Hollinger subsidiary.
Black has so far served more than a year of his 6 1/2 year sentence at the federal prison in Coleman, Fla.
Black’s spectacular fall from a best-selling author, larger-than-life businessman and multi-millionaire media tycoon to convicted felon has fascinated many in Canada where his story has generated both support and condemnation.
Black gave up his Canadian citizenship in 2001 to accept an appointment to the British House of Lords.
Throughout his legal battles Black has maintained with characteristic defiance that he is innocent.
Black and former executives John Boultbee and Mark Kipnis argue that the US$5.5 million actually represented management fees that the subsidiary owed to the executives.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld the convictions, but the county’s appeals courts are divided on the central issue undergirding their convictions.
At issue is the reach of a federal fraud statute that was originally aimed at prosecuting public officials.
What the outcome of the Supreme Court’s review of the case will be is anyone’s guess.
“So far, all that has happened is that Conrad Black’s legal team requested that the Supreme Court review (the case), and now it has agreed to review,” said Frenkel, .
“Now both sides need to brief the argument, and the Supreme Court will then hear arguments to consider the appeal.
“It is impossible to know where the Supreme Court will come out.”
Black had asked former U.S. president George W. Bush for a pardon before Bush left office in January. The request was denied.
Hollinger International once owned the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post and hundreds of community newspapers across this country and Canada.
The only large paper remaining is the Sun-Times, and the company has changed its name to Sun-Times Media Group.
-With files from the Associated Press.