Sunday, September 4, 2011

(No.168) Conrad Black: "I win"

Conrad Black, the Canadian businessman and former newspaper owner, returns to a U.S. federal prison in Florida on Sept.6 to complete a reduced sentence imposed on him following a partially successful appeal of his conviction for 4 of an original 18 charges involving fraud and obstruction of justice. He had been released from prison pending completion of the judicial process arising from his successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some followers of will recall that I wrote about Lord Black in a column "Rooting for Conrad Black" (No.104, posted July 22, 2010). In it I quoted from an email I had sent to him in prison prior to his obtaining leave to appeal his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court. This was followed by his temporary release from prison. I subsequently published his response to my column: "A reply from Conrad Black" (column No. 120 posted Oct.19, 2010).

I have followed Lord Black's career and latterly his legal case with more than casual interest in part because we were contemporaries as undergraduate history majors at Carleton University in Ottawa although we were not friends or even acquaintances but knew a few of the same people.

One of the things I admire about his conduct before, during and after his Chicago trial and while serving a prison sentence beginning in March 2008 (from where he continued to write a weekly column for the National Post as well as a book about his legal challenges) was his refusal to surrender, the absence of any attempt to mitigate either his sentence or his largely negative image with the court or the media.

Indeed I think that his unbending attitude accounts in part for the snotty media coverage of Black and his legal tribulations, coverage which has often absolutely reeked of schadenfreude. An excellent recent example appeared in the Toronto Star on Sept.1, 2011 as a front page "Star Exclusive" by Jennifer Wells. The 'exclusive' billing seemed to have been based primarily on having seen at least parts of Lord Black's new book, A Matter of Principle (McLelland and Stewart, to be published ca Sept. 15).

Examples abound of accused and/or convicted CEOs suddenly discovering God, expressing heartfelt apologies, engaging in energetic bouts of public grovelling and the like. Conrad Black engaged in none of this and never ceased to maintain his innocence after he was convicted. Indeed his statement to the U.S. federal court judge at his recent re-sentencing in Chicago was both eloquent and unbending.

He has refused to seek leniency of sentence through the use of insincere expressions of contrition. In his Sept. 3 column for the National Post prior to returning to a Florida prison on Sept. 6 (a column which might even turn out to be his final one until his sentence has been served) Black refers to the "shirty" attitude of U.S. "officialdom" at "my failure to be adequately chastened by being sent, and sent back, to prison." Just so.

Lord Black is an accomplished historian with several excellent biographies published. A Matter of Principle covers the eight years of his struggle with the U.S. legal system. Its publication coincides with his return to federal prison from which he expects to emerge next spring although I wonder about the advisability of some of the comments he has made in recent interviews given to publicize the publication of his book. Indeed I wonder whether it would not have been wiser to postpone its publication until after he had completed his prison sentence.

In any case I look forward to reading A Matter of Principle from cover to cover. I will write about it in a future column. In the meanwhile I wish both Conrad Black and his wife Barbara Amiel continued courage and resolve as he serves what is expected to be a further 7 1/2 months of imprisonment rather than 18 months.

His words closing his new book are worth quoting now:

"By surviving it all, physically, morally and financially, despite everything and against all odds and disappointments, I win."

by Alastair Rickard




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