Chasing Amy

Chasing Amy

Once again, from the dank hallways of the Everett McKinley Dirksen Building, 219 South Dearborn Street, Chicago, Illinois, arrives a missive from a friend known only as The Courtstalker:

Black may be launching a new charm offensive the way he was courting journalists on Monday. Schmoozing with Dominick Dunne, star of Vanity Fair and a million Larry King shows, seeking him out among the lower-caste scribes and shaking his hand in a most ostentatious way. “Where are you staying? How long are you here?” asked Black with that beaming smile that so enchanted the Argus widows. Later, after having set up dinner with Dunne, there was Black deep in conversation with another scribe. Again, the buzz was about dinner. Scribe said, “I’m at your service.”

I’m at your service? It’s distressing to see a journalist with his butt that far up in the air.

Courtroom 1241 is the chessboard where Conrad Black is trying to salvage a draw from a grievously weak position. He lost a castle, a bishop, both knights and a bunch of pawns in the shareholder revolt that fired him. When Radler turned away, he lost the queen. Most days, the big chamber with the high ceiling looks like a landfill site full of lawyers. They’re in the public benches, at tables along the walls. Lawyers jammed in around the big mahogany tables in front of the bench. More are sitting at other desks and tables nearby. The defendants avoid each other. They sit with their own clutch of lawyers and don’t make any apparent eye contact. Not surprisingly, Black seems to have the biggest legal roster: seven.

In the densely packed scene, even his Lordship is crowded—although not so crowded that he’s yet laid off anyone in order to get more elbow room. The only ones remotely comfortable—apart from Amy St. Eve, surely one of the perkiest judges in America and the unquestioned mistress of this domain—are the jurors.St. Eve is all business, but in a pleasant way. She moves the lawyers along and cuts them off when they sound like gasbags. Her decisions are delivered staccato-style—“Overruled,” “Sustained on foundation,” “I’ll decide that later.” During witness testimony, she types furiously. At times, she bounces up to grab a binder or a document from the bookshelf near her chair. When things get contentious, she’ll call a sidebar and gather all the lawyers around her beside the bench. These sessions are meant to settle issues away from the jury, and at barely five feet tall, she literally disappears into the throng.