Conrad Black appeal panel weighs decision

An attorney for Conrad Black invoked a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in his bid to have a U.S. Federal Appeals court in Chicago throw out Black's convictions on fraud and obstruction.
Conrad Black, seen in December 2007, is free on bail. ((John Gress/Reuters) )
An attorney for Conrad Black invoked both a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court — and Disney character Minnie Mouse — Wednesday in his bid to have a U.S. Federal Appeals court in Chicago throw out the former media mogul's 2007 convictions on fraud and obstruction.

Defence attorney Miguel Estrada, arguing that Black should now be released for good, said jurors gave too much weight to the now much narrower "honest services" provisions in convicting Black of defrauding Hollinger International Inc. investors.

Since Black's conviction, the Supreme Court ruling has limited the honest services law to bribes and kickbacks.

"It's our submission that none of the fraud or obstruction of justice charges can survive," Estrada told the three judges.

Prosecutor Edmond Chang disagreed.

While conceding the government based part of its case on honest services — that Black deprived the company of his faithful services as a corporate officer — Chang said a simpler, undisputed legal notion underpinned arguments to jurors: that Black stole money.

Black is now on bail, having served more than two years of a 6½-year sentence in a Florida prison.

Ruling could come within days

The judges retired to weigh their decision and could make their ruling within days, CBC's David Common reported from Chicago.

In court filings, Estrada argued that the "'taint" of the three fraud convictions prompted the jury to convict Black of obstructing justice when he removed boxes of documents from his office.

The defence's argument is, essentially, that there was no fraud, so there could not be any obstruction.

In arguing there was no obstruction, Estrada employed an unlikely metaphor of a false accusation that he had an affair with Minnie Mouse.

"If I [then] burn my Disney comics, I can't be convicted for trying to cover up a relationship with Minnie Mouse," he told the judges.

"On the contrary," Judge Richard Posner quickly responded, drawing laughter from the crowded court. "You burned them because you were going to be prosecuted for Minnie Mouse."

In their argument, the prosecution cited the sale of a small northern California newspaper — the Mammoth Times — where Black and his fellow executives skimmed $5.6-million off the top and put it in their pockets.

Prosecutors claim that the money should have gone to Hollinger, and that Black took steps to conceal the skimming from the company's audit committee, shareholders and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

With files from The Canadian Press