Black Day in July

Black Day in July

It was the sort of bracing gust of reality that leaves hardly any room for description. At 9:30 this morning, Amy St. Eve marched toward the media hordes camped out on the 12th floor and announced, “We have a verdict.” You could actually hear the air being sucked from the wide hallway as scores of journalists rushed to the courtroom door, only to fall back like a heaving beast when marshals forced them into another queue further away. The fellowship of semi-cooperation had now given way to a more primal competitiveness: TV producers yelled down cell phones at cowed underlings; reporters, suddenly working at warp speed, muttered and murmured about the course of a story yet to unfold. Tom Bower, fearful that his editor in London might miss a word, covered his mouth and nose with his hands as he dictated the precious news.

I noticed things in flashes: a new, younger crew of feral, bristling federal marshals appeared, complete with squawking walkie-talkies; Greenspan’s eyes shifted back and forth across the room while he awaited his client (as always, the last of the defendants to arrive); Patrick Fitzgerald sat ramrod straight, his jaw muscles working like pistons. Someone said, “Jesus, it’s Friday the 13th.” A woman from the Financial Times mouthed the words, “He’s in the building,” and shortly thereafter, the great man arrived, with Barbara and Alana in tow.

The lawyers introduced themselves to the judge for the umpteenth time. “Eddie Greenspan and Ed Genson on behalf of Conrad Black, your honour.” St. Eve formally announced a unanimous verdict before launching into a redundant recitation of the jury notes from the last several days. Finally, she called for the jury. The team of prosecutors rose first, and a minute later St. Eve. The wait was excrutiating. The door opened. “All Rise.” “Good morning,” said St. Eve. “I understand you have reached a verdict.”

“We have, your honour.”

The verdict form was passed, and St. Eve began reading.

And on the very first count?

“We, the jury, find the defendant, Conrad Black, guilty.”

And with that, Conrad Moffat Black, Lord of Crossharbour, was, in a moment, transformed into a convicted felon (pending appeal).

The litany continued. Black was found guilty on four counts—including obstruction of justice, carrying a potential sentence of 20 years. Boultbee, three counts; Atkinson, three; Kipnis, three. St. Eve then polled jury members to ensure unanimity on each finding. “Was this and is this your verdict with respect to each of the defendants in this case?” She concluded with, “And so say you all?” To which the jury responded, in unison, “Yes.” The hammer struck the anvil. I looked around and saw a room full of people hanging on that word as though it were the last note of a symphony.

And for all intents and purposes, the drama was done. Secondary issues that seemed trivial in relief—forfeiture of property, the question of bail even—were bruited about among the lawyers while Black sat slumped in his seat, his face an icy mask. While waiting for St. Eve to rule on a matter pertaining to Black waiving his right to an extradition hearing should he return to Canada, Black was comforted by his wife and daughter, who hunched around him, blocking the prying eyes of the crowd.

Later, the judge decided that Boultbee and Atkinson—with the obvious caveats—could return to Canada, but Black’s status was held over until next Thursday. Then, the judge will decide whether he can leave Chicago and/or the northern district of Illinois in the interim between conviction and sentencing. (In a strange aside, Black asked the judge whether he could leave metro Chicago for an unspecified engagement in Wheaton, Illinois, this weekend. The answer was yes.) Eric Sussman talked of the possible range of Black’s punishment given the sentencing guidelines: 188 to 235 months. It’s an astonishingly long time—nausea inducing. Then Black was forced to relinquish his passport until Thursday’s hearing.

St. Eve asked about Black’s short-term plans, “Because I would like to know where Mr. Black will be staying in the intervening days.” And then Conrad Black, convicted felon and a potential flight risk, was excused. As he left the courtroom, a slightly creepy guy in a suit and expensive open-necked white shirt whose father had been convicted of similar crimes by then prosecutor and future governor Jim Thompson (yes, that Jim Thompson) approached Black and said, “Not the vindication you deserved, but I think you carried the day.” To which Black said not a word. Later still, at the usual post-game victory press conference, Patrick Fitzgerald, vanquisher of Gambino Libby and Black alike, summed it all up differently: “If there’s one lesson to be taken from this, it’s that anyone who violates the trust of the shareholders by fraudulent means will be punished.” And on that score, Conrad Black had nothing to say either.