While we await a verdict in Conrad Black et al. v. the United States, the 12th floor of the Everett McKinley Dirksen Building (home to Courtroom 1241) looks like the grounds of the Glastonbury rock festival. Amid the spare elegance of Mies van der Rohe’s furnishings, journalists and their gear are strewn along hallways and in alcoves. The judge has decreed that all parties have only half an hour to gather should a verdict come down, and 15 minutes should there be a need to discuss a communication from the jury. The lawyers and at least some of the defendants are holed up in a nearby office building. The journalists, playing out a scene somewhere between Waiting for Godot and the final episode of Seinfeld, have only the courthouse itself as their refuge. On a day when absolutely nothing of any consequence happened, some tapped away at more or less meaningless updates, while others, assigned by editors anxious to keep their charges occupied, wrote unrelated stories. Still others lounged, reading novels and chewing over the old wars in the hopes that a note from the jury would break the tedium. The fear of missing the great event was palpable. At one stage, a small group motored out for lunch, constantly checking and rechecking their various CrackBerrys in case the word came down. The court has appointed four journalists to inform the rest should a decision be imminent. This in turn has led to a debate: would any or all of them feel a greater obligation to e-mail their respective news organizations first, before their inky colleagues, thereby seizing a tiny advantage in the 24/7 Vimy that constitutes the modern news wars?
At 4:45 p.m. exactly, the 12 jurors emerged from their daylong deliberations. The journos waited at a distance for a brief glimpse. As they stood staring silently, the jurors, waiting for the elevator, stared back. The two tribes had been looking at each other over the course of three months in the courtroom, and for a moment they were back to that natural dynamic—the observers and the observed. Not a word passed between the two groups and then, in an instant, the jurors were gone.
Later in the evening, the throng moved more or less en masse to a theatre inside Roosevelt University for an event billed as a 75th Anniversary Salute to FDR. There were rumours (unfounded as it turned out) that Black, having produced an estimable biography, might turn up. But as fate would have it, another quarry made the scene: none other than former mayor of Cincinnati and creepy TV icon Jerry Springer. For a moment, the Brits were in heaven, and they collectively descended to ask the great man his views of Britain’s most embattled peer. “It’s not for me to say,” he replied. “I’m not on the jury.” Slightly disappointed at this restrained response, one Brit wearily dismissed him thusly: “He’s too slick and media savvy to talk about something he knows nothing about.” In these limbo days at the trial of Conrad Black, that’s about as close to wisdom as you’re going to get. Still, by the time you read this, a verdict might well have come and gone and, either way, the real madness begins.