From the inside
A spectator's view of the week's courtroom happenings
Last Updated May 11, 2007
By Susan Berger
Susan Berger is a freelance journalist in Chicago. She has been in the courtroom since the beginning of the Conrad Black trial and writes a blog www.blacksjustice.com.
There was much anticipation on the 12th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago Monday morning. Although it was the seventh week of the Conrad Black trial, it felt much like the first day — the lines for both reporters and spectators began at 7 a.m., the star reporters like Peter Worthington, Dominick Dunne and Peter C. Newman returned, and the air was filled with speculation about star witness David Radler.
Radler entered the courtroom just after noon to a hushed courtroom. It was akin to the start of a wedding, when all the spectators turn to look at the bride.
Radler had his ever-present suntan and wore a dark suit with an almost fluorescent pink tie. He looked relaxed, confident and calm.
"I pled guilty to fraud," he said. "For taking money from Hollinger International in circumstances that were not allowed."
The prosecution then walked Radler through his resumé, focusing on when he and Black met and began their newspaper business as young men in their 20s. Radler recalled a meeting at a restaurant in Montreal with Black and a third partner, Peter White, which provided the only humour of the day.
"Who else was at the meeting besides Mr. Black?" Eric Sussman, a prosecutor, asked.
Radler answered, "Mr. White." That led to a reply of, "So, it was you and Mr. Black and Mr. White," as the courtroom chuckled.
Painting a picture of the partnership
Radler went on to testify that he was impressed with Black from the moment he met him.
"I knew he would be a great partner to have," Radler said.
As Radler talked more about their relationship, the court got a glimpse of an uncomfortable Black. For the first time in the trial, Black seemed fidgety — he rearranged himself in his chair, pulled at his cuffs, played with his cufflinks and avoided looking at the man who had been his business partner for more than 30 years.
Seated in the courtroom were Conrad's son Jonathan, his daughter Alana and wife Barbara Amiel Black.
The testimony that followed, depicting a relationship that built a formidable newspaper empire and ended in criminal court, must have been emotional for both men. Radler spent the afternoon painting an image of their relationship. They were not only business partners, they were friends; he told of a Hawaiian vacation they took together and how the little social life they had in those early hectic days was often shared. Radler was even a member of Black's wedding party.
The two men made all business decisions together, Radler said, shooting a hole in the defence theory that Radler and Black ran different areas — Black the Canadian and London papers and Radler the United States operations.
Radler connects the dots
Radler left the courtroom much like a politician working the room. He smiled and glanced at people and even raised his hand to wave to a reporter he recognized.
The prosecution was banking on Radler to connect the dots, and it all came together on Tuesday. A confident Radler took the stand and walked the court through three newspaper sales at the core of the case. He admitted that the buyers of the newspapers never demanded the non-compete agreements that the defence claims they did. He admitted it was all a plan — a plan devised by Conrad Black himself.
The plan — that 25 per cent of all non-compete payments would be paid to Hollinger Inc. — became known as "the template," Radler said. And it was ordered by "Toronto," which became code for the senior executives of Hollinger — meaning Black, Boultbee and Atkinson.
"I didn't know if the transaction was legal or illegal," Radler said. "But I didn't like the transaction. I should have said something. I regret I didn't."
The "I regret I didn't" was met with the defence jumping up in objection, and those words were stricken by the judge.
Radler admitted that he had no intention of competing, revealing that the non-compete agreements were fraudulent. In one newspaper sale, Horizon, he said that he and Black were part-owners of the purchase and that a non-competition agreement was not only unnecessary but ludicrous.
"It would be like competing against one's self," Radler said.
Black, meanwhile, sat quietly during this exchange and appeared to be a bit rattled.
Radler admitted, too, that he never brought the non-competition agreements in question before the Hollinger audit committee for approval. Neither did Black, Peter Atkinson or Jack Boultbee.
Trying to rattle Radler
On Wednesday Greenspan came out swinging. He asked Radler to recall his testimony at a Canadian trial in January 2002.
"You were sworn with your hand on the Bible, before a Canadian court, to tell the truth so help you God, correct?" Greenspan said.
Radler answered that he didn't remember the Bible. Greenspan proceeded for about 15 minutes, clearly with the intent of rattling the witness, to ask if Radler was asked to tell the truth or partial truth in that proceeding.
Within minutes, the court saw an exasperated Radler, who was asked to remember testimony from the day before, was asked about it again, and was then told his answer had changed. "The question is different, why don't you read the question again" Radler said.
"Why don't you let me ask the questions," Greenspan shot back.
Greenspan reminded Radler that his plea bargain required he tell the truth and suggested that if he does not, the prosecutors could put the kibosh on his deal.
Greenspan got Radler to agree that in initial meetings he lied. He lied to his lawyer, the prosecutors, the special investigative committee, FBI agents, SEC agents and postal officials. Greenspan also shot holes in the theory that the ex-partners were close. So close, Greenspan said, that in 37 years they took only one vacation together.
There was also a motion for a mistrial by the defence that was not only denied, but admonished by the judge, after the prosecutors complained, not to ask again for a mistrial with the jury present.
On Thursday, everyone's demeanour changed. Greenspan, who sometimes yelled at Radler (at one point Radler couldn't follow which document to look at, and Greenspan yelled, 'Are you playing with me?') now politely said, "If there is a confusion, I apologize."
But Radler was different too. He was playing the game and playing it well. During the morning break, one reporter commented, "Who's cross-examining whom?" Greenspan asked Radler how he lied. Did he have a plan? Was it spontaneous? Did he find it easy? Did he pause first or stutter? "I take it there is nothing you can tell the jury, so they will know what to look for when you lie," Greenspan said.
Radler gave a simple answer: "Sir, I said I lied."
The star witness proved hard to trip up. And at times Radler gave it right back to Greenspan. "Can you repeat that? I don't understand the question. I have to see the document. Please repeat the question."
Radler also said, "If you want to say things out of context, that's your prerogative."
It was a pivotal moment, following an objection of "asked and answered" by the prosecution, Greenspan continued with his cross. But he was interrupted again, this time by one of his own, Ron Safer, Mark Kipnis's attorney, who also objected with, "That was certainly asked and answered."
Greenspan looked shaken and asked the judge for a moment.
Steven Skurka, a Canadian legal analyst who has been attending the trial, said that Safer's objection could not be lost on the jury.
"Safer was attempting to create a safe harbour between his client's fate and that of Conrad Black," Skurka said in his blog, The Crime Sheet. "Safer was deeply concerned that Radler, the pivotal witness in the case, was withstanding Greenspan's withering questioning and bouncing back intact. In other words, Conrad Black was possibly losing the trial."
The jury was riveted early on in the day; at times their heads turned in sync from Greenspan to Radler. But later it seemed that the hammering away by Greenspan was losing its effectiveness. A few jurors seemed to be daydreaming. A juror was seen blowing bubblegum and watching the gallery more than the witness. However, one juror appeared to hang on every word — she appeared almost giddy whenever Radler seemed to score.
According to Skurka, a lot rests on Radler's testimony.
"If Radler does well, Conrad will have to testify," Skurka said.
Radler is expected to continue on the stand for most if not all of next week.
- Main page
- Charges at a glance
- Trial at a glance
- The rise and fall of a media baron
- Conrad Black in his own words
- Can Black regain Canadian citizenship?
- Lord Black and Canadian too?
- Closing arguments: CBC's Andy Barrie talks to Globe and Mail reporter Paul Waldie
Trial coverage: From the inside
- August 3, 2007
- July 23, 2007
- July 16, 2007
- June 22, 2007
- June 15, 2007
- June 8, 2007
- June 1, 2007
- May 25, 2007
- May 18, 2007
- May 11, 2007
- Letters from the Editor in Chief: Tony Burman
- Media overkill of Conrad Black