Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

The most concise and thorough investigation of the business and legal issues surrounding the trial of Conrad Black appears in consecutive issues of Canadian Business (September 10 and 24) this month. The pieces by Matthew McClearn (a mainstay of the trial from day one) lay out in the clearest possible terms issues that, while treated in the daily business press, have yet to be examined so clearly and unambiguously.

Among the various aperçus: a crystal clear analysis of the deal that did Black et al. down in the eyes of the jury; a nifty recounting of the sundering relations between Radler and Black, leading to Radler’s turning state’s evidence; a crisp revisiting of Eddie Greenspan’s disastrous performance, particularly in his cross-examination of David Radler. Finally and most perceptively, McClearn offers a knock-down analysis and argument as to why, in the end, Radler and Black are rather more alike than not. Both, it seems, share a taste for betrayal. Black’s defence, such as it was, turned as much on pointing the finger at Atkinson and Kipnis in their failure to properly document the non-competes as it did on accusing Radler of cooking up the whole scheme in the first place. To wit:

“Among [the accused], Atkinson alone appreciated how Ravelston’s practices might upset shareholders, and pressed for change. When his entreaties fell on deaf ears, he attempted to resign in early 2003. Black wrote to a friend that Atkinson, who had once been his confidant, ‘left me hanging out to dry on the non-competition agreements. In the end, he was untrustworthy and I won’t miss him.’ …[F]or the defendants, the trial became an exercise in divorcing themselves from one another, to deny their friendships, their close working relationships, indeed, to deny all that they had once been. They preferred the ‘I.’ …Black held himself out as a victim of betrayal by Atkinson, Radler and countless others. It is a conceit to which he is not entitled. If the jury was correct in holding Black accountable for the non-compete scheme, then it follows that his own unseemly finger-pointing at colleagues was morally equivalent to Radler’s. And through his stalwart refusal to accept any responsibility, he, more than anyone else, dragged Ravelston insiders and plenty of bystanders into an abyss. Conrad Black and David Radler proved far more alike than they care to admit.”

McClearn’s authoritative and disinterested tone and reporting rings true throughout. On verdict day, I remember Atkinson passing Black on his way out without a backward glance. Their mutual loathing was all that remained between them. Matt McClearn’s work captures that sense of betrayal as well as anything written about the trial thus far.

Law: Duties of loyalty [Canadian Business] (September 5. Part two to follow shortly at