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Any lingering doubt (and there can’t have been much) that may have plagued Lord Black et al. as to whether they got their money’s worth from yesterday’s cross-examination of Jim Thompson was put to rest at 9:08 this morning when Peter Lattman wrote in the Wall Street Journal Law Blog:

“The Conrad Black trial is trudging along rather quietly in the Windy City. But yesterday’s appearance on the witness stand of James Thompson—former Illinois governor and chairman of Winston & Strawn—certainly caught our attention… Thompson told jurors that because he ‘skimmed’ Hollinger’s financial statements while running the company’s audit committee he didn’t notice the questionable payments he approved. ‘I should have read them word for word. I didn’t,’ Thompson reportedly told Black’s lawyer Eddie Greenspan on cross-examination. ‘Hollinger didn’t pay you $60,000 to skim documents?’ Greenspan then asked, referring to Thompson’s director salary. ‘They never asked you, ‘Please skim this?’ He went on: ‘I’m going to suggest to you, Governor Thompson, that you read all of those passages; you approved of them,’ Greenspan said. And ‘when there was some criticism, the three of you conveniently forgot,’ referring to the audit committee. ‘That is false,’ responded Thompson, who probably wishes he didn’t use the word ‘skim’ during his testimony. That’s because one of the other defendants’ attorneys, Patrick Tuite, also used the word against him on his cross-examination. Handing Thompson a document about which he was going to ask a question, he told Thompson, ‘You can read it. Or you can just skim it.’”

When the undisputed gazette of American capitalism has a good laugh at your expense, pointing out the essential absurdity of your testimony, it’s safe to say you’ve been well and truly routed. The prosecution will have to go a long way on redirect to “rehabilitate” Thompson’s reputation for the jury, and to the extent they were counting on his sterling status to rub off on David Radler, well, like I say, they’ve got a lot of work to do.

Conrad Black Trial: Big Jim Thompson on the Witness Stand [Wall Street Journal]Thompson concedes audit was lackluster [Chicago Tribune]Thompson squirms on hot seat [Toronto Star]Ex-gov accused of lying about fees [Chicago]Director says he skimmed reports [Globe and Mail]Hollinger auditors accused of lying over payments [Times of London]Glimmer of optimism in Black camp as prosecution case falters [Financial Times]

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