Conrad Black, the ex-chairman of Hollinger International Inc., in prison for fraud since March 2008, asked an appeals court for bail as it weighs whether a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month will overturn his conviction.
Black’s lawyer, in papers filed yesterday with the court in Chicago, said the request was based on the high court’s decision that narrowed the federal “honest services” fraud statute to cases involving bribery or kickbacks. Black, also Hollinger’s chief executive officer, faced no such allegations in his prosecution in 2007, the justices said.
The court returned his case to the appellate panel to determine whether jury instructions, allowing for conviction under more than one legal theory, make it impossible to know if he was convicted under the now-invalid “honest services” standard, the court said.
“The Supreme Court has now unanimously ruled that a violation affecting Mr. Black’s Sixth Amendment jury trial right occurred,” wrote defense attorney Miguel A. Estrada of the Washington office of Los Angeles-based Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
Prosecutors used the law, which criminalized the deprivation of one’s intangible right to the honest services of a corporate officer or public official, in winning the convictions of Black and Enron Corp. CEO Jeffrey Skilling.
Grounds for Reversal
Skilling’s attorneys have said the decision gave them grounds to seek reversal of their client’s entire conviction and his 24-year sentence.
Black and three other Hollinger executives were accused of stealing $60 million from Hollinger, once the third-largest publisher of English-language newspapers and owner of the Chicago Sun-Times and U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. Prosecutors said he made illegal gains using agreements not to compete with buyers of Hollinger papers.
After a four-month trial, he and his associates were found guilty in connection with the theft of $6.1 million from the Chicago-based newspaper publisher, as they engineered its sale of assets.
Black’s conviction on three counts of fraud “must be set aside,” Estrada wrote, unless the court is certain the verdict could not be attributed “to the error” of using the now-invalid standard. The former Hollinger CEO was also convicted for obstruction of justice.
The case was brought by the office of Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. His spokesman, Randall Samborn, declined to comment on the bail request.
Hollinger International is now known as the Sun-Times Media Group Inc.
The appeals court in June 2008 rejected Black’s appeal of his conviction. He has been serving his sentence at the low security facility at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida and will turn 66 next month.
“Society’s interest in seeing Mr. Black complete his sentence will not be frustrated in the least if, after being released on bail, he does not prevail. But the time he spends in prison between now and a favorable ruling can never be returned to him,” Estrada said.
The case is U.S. v. Black, 07-4080, U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (Chicago).