Lawyers in Conrad Black case wrap up written arguments

Conrad Black’s lawyer and U.S. prosecutors are preparing for an appearance in an appeals court later this month that will decide whether the former media mogul remains free or returns to a Florida prison.

Conrad Black’s lawyer and U.S. prosecutors are preparing for an appearance in an appeals court later this month that will decide whether the former media mogul remains free or returns to a Florida prison.

The former Hollinger Inc. chief executive is currently free on bail from a Florida prison where he was serving a six-and-a-half year sentence on fraud and obstruction of justice. A bail status update has been pushed back from Monday to Oct. 19, if the appeals court hasn’t handed down a decision on the case by then.

The defence and prosecution attorneys are to make their cases in person on Sept. 29 before a panel of three U.S. Court of Appeals judges after filing the last of required written arguments this week.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts in June after ruling that the “honest services” fraud law, a key argument used by the prosecution in convicting Black and four others, should have been more narrowly applied. The law had stipulated that U.S. citizens were entitled to honest service from government and or private citizens, even when nobody suffered any loss.

Black and other former Hollinger executives were convicted of siphoning money out of the company and falsely claiming executives were getting “non-compete” payments from buyers of Hollinger community newspapers.

The 2007 case centred on the US$5.5 million in “non-compete” payments. The companies that bought the Hollinger papers made the payments to Black and the other executives in return for promises they would not return to compete with the new owners.

Black’s lawyers argued the payments received from a Hollinger subsidiary was money the executives were legitimately owed and they cannot be convicted of fraud when they did no harm to the company.

Black’s defence lawyers have argued since his trial that the jury was misled when it was instructed that the honest services law — a favourite tool of prosecutors in white-collar and public corruption cases — be applied in Black’s case. They maintain all of Black’s convictions should be dropped because of the error.

In documents filed with the court late Thursday, Black’s lawyer Miguel Estrada said all charges against his client must be thrown out because the jury was misled on the grounds for conviction.

Estrada dismissed the prosecution’s argument that an erroneous instruction to the jury had no effect on its decision to convict Black.

“The government must now prove beyond a reasonable doubt that not a single juror took the easier route to conviction under the flawed (honest services) law theory,” he wrote.

“The error in instructing the jury to convict for something that is not mail fraud cannot remotely be considered harmless.”

Meanwhile, U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald reiterated in his written response that the erroneous honest services instructions were harmless.

“Because the one set of facts that was proven by the government … supported the legally-valid money-fraud theory, the instructional error was harmless and this court should affirm the defendant’s convictions,” he wrote in the filing.

Defence and prosecution submissions will be reviewed by a panel of three appellate circuit judges led by Judge Richard Posner, who presided over Black’s last appeal and took only 20 days to reach a decision.

Black was head of the world’s third-largest newspaper empire in terms of circulation until he was ousted in 2003 following an internal investigation initiated by Black in response to shareholder complaints.

Hollinger once owned the Chicago Sun-Times, the London Daily Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post and hundreds of newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.