Black Watch: Post-Sentencing Report

Black Watch: Post-Sentencing Report

Conrad Black’s three-ring circus and pandemonium medicine show came thundering back into town today. And while not so long ago the idea that his nibs would walk out of a courthouse in Chicago well-satisfied at the prospect of five or so years in prison seemed utterly mad, that is exactly what happened.

The day began with something like the same air as verdict day, anxious and anticipatory. James Bone, resplendent in russet tweed, held forth in the John: “Ten years,” he said with the finality of an Old Bailey magistrate. As the Blacks processed into the courtroom, Conrad first, Barbara and Alana in tow, for a long moment the place was dead quiet. When the usual buzzing resumed, it did so at a decidedly more subdued modulation. Somebody mouthed off in a stage whisper, noting the sons’ absence: “Just the faithful daughter—gag me.” For once the gallows humour of the tricoteuses seemed in abeyance. Not even a snicker. And then, in a flash, St. Eve was at the dais. The usual pro forma intros whizzed by, and the room was seriously down to business. It was clear straight away that the more dire predictions had missed the mark (including those of yours truly, who will, as promised, eat this blog at an appropriate moment). St. Eve agreed up and down the line with the pre-sentence report, rejecting the government’s pleas for a stiffer sentence time and time again. It was soon clear that where the government sought $32 million in forfeiture, they’d get only $6.1, and that Black would likely do considerably less than ten years.

Still, while things seemed to be going well for Black, I had to wonder how it must have sounded to him to have his own lawyer (Marc Martin), in mitigating against the notion of his Black’s crimes being “sophisticated,” refer to them as a “straight money grab.” There was Black, sitting in open court listening to the grim details of his newly-won status as a convicted felon en route to prison. And still the arguments raged on.

Now it was “sentencing consultant” Jeffrey Steinback’s turn to present the main part of Conrad’s plea for mercy. In a soft voice with an ever-so-slightly theatrical quaver, Steinback listed Black’s bona fides for mercy—“historian,” “entrepreneur,” “statesman,” “author,” and “loving father” were rolled out like so much artillery. The letters were quoted at length: Elton John, George Will, Lord Weidenfeld (an oddly matched trio to be sure) all attested to Black’s status as philanthropist and humanitarian. Steinback quoted the Rick Mercer Report to prove that Black could poke fun at himself despite his besieged condition. And somewhere in there was a slightly bungled effort at quoting Shylock’s line from The Merchant of Venice, “if you prick us do we not bleed.” (To what end, I’m still not sure.) Then came a thorough parsing of Lord Black’s infamous interview with the BBC, which seemed designed to show the gathered press corps just exactly how wretched their ink stainedness was. (I’m not sure that worked either.) Later, Steinback pointed out that surely the court must recognize the mitigating power of a positive letter from former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney. Having now fully entered the Twilight Zone, he went on to quote from The Shawshank Redemption, saying “no good thing ever dies,” before finally asking the court to dole out the “most lenient sentence the law allows.”

Then came Sussman in rebuttal, taking Lord Black to task for not using his own money to pay out “Sir John.” (His way of offering due deference to the British pop singer’s titled status.) And on he went spray-painting vitriol all over the portrait Steinback had so lovingly rendered. Then things seemed to speed up. A money manager from Cardinal Capital Management gave an impact statement that was spoken so quickly and with such little inflection it sounded like a CBC farm report. Steinback rebutted, and before you knew it Black was standing before St. Eve having been asked if he had any final words before sentencing. He spoke for less than five minutes, saying essentially that with more time and inclination he’d have mopped the floor with all these bums, but as for you Judge Amy, well, I think you’re swell. He talked about deep regret in a deep voice, but for what exactly was not quite clear.

In the end, St. Eve responded by telling him that, on the whole, he wasn’t such a bad guy either, but that in the United States no one is above the law “and that includes you Mr. Black.” And with that, she sentenced him to six and half years, possibly in a minimum-security prison in Florida, to which he’ll have to report in 12 weeks time. At this point everyone recessed, gave interviews, and peeled out. The court session continues as I type this: Peter Atkinson just got two years; Boultbee 27 months; and Kipnis is still awaiting his fate. In America, justice is swift and certain. And of that Conrad Black can be sure.