Conrad Black loses U.S. appeal bid

Montreal-born media baron Conrad Black has lost the latest round of his bid to appeal his convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice in the United States.

Lawyer plans appeal to Supreme Court

Media baron Conrad Black lost a bid on Friday to appeal his convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice in the United States before a federal appeals court in Chicago.

The Montreal-born Black's lawyer, Miguel Estrada, said his client will next appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Conrad Black, seen in December 2007, will appeal his convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. ((John Gress/Reuters) )

In a decision released Friday, a three-judge panel in Chicago unanimously turned down Black's bid for a rehearing of an appeal he launched before three judges of the court in September.

The court did not release reasons for its decision.

Those three judges unanimously tossed out two of Black's fraud convictions. But they upheld two others, including his conviction on the more serious charge of obstructing justice.

Estrada had asked for a full nine-judge panel of the Appeal Court to review the judges' ruling.

Estrada argued the three judges erred and failed to properly apply a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that changed a key section of the law dealing with corporate fraud.

Bid was only a formality

But Black said he never expected the panel to agree to rehear his case and made the request as a formality en route to a Supreme Court petition.

"Obviously, this is the next step," Black said in an email to The Canadian Press.

"Given the arithmetic [six judges out of 10 with three already committed to their own ruling], and the extreme animus of [Judge Richard] Posner, we never thought there was the slightest chance of success, but had to proceed on this route to repetition at the Supreme Court, whose previous ruling Posner and his panel have effectively ignored," he said.

Friday's ruling also applies to Black's co-defendants — Peter Atkinson and John Boultbee, both Canadians and former executives of Black's former company, Hollinger. Atkinson received two years in prison and Boultbee 27 months.

At the centre of their appeal is a Supreme Court ruling in June that narrowed the so-called "honest services" laws to include only cases centred on bribes or kickbacks and shouldn't have been used to help convict Black because it did not apply in his case.

The now defunct "honest services" legal argument has been used to convict politicians and corporate executives, including Black and Jeffery Skilling, the ex-chief executive of Enron.

The law had stipulated that U.S. citizens were entitled to honest services from government and private citizens, even when no one suffered any loss. It holds that the definition of fraud includes a scheme to "deprive another of the intangible right of honest services."

It has been criticized by defence lawyers for being vague and subjecting people to prosecution for mistakes and minor transgressions in the business and political worlds.

The fraud count that remains relates to payments to Black and his colleagues in connection with a sale of Hollinger community newspapers, and was upheld because the defendants admit that they failed to prepare legally binding contracts.

If the convictions stand, Black will be re-sentenced in a month and could be ordered back to prison. He is free on bail after serving more than two years of a 6½ year jail term for the four convictions in a Florida prison.

Steven Skurka, a Toronto-based legal analyst who is writing a book about Black's ongoing legal wranglings, said it is unlikely that Black will be sent back to prison when he is re-sentenced. 

"My prediction is that he has spent his last day in prison," Skurka said.

"What the remaining counts call for is four to six months at best and so the notion that he should go back for more time, particularly given his conduct since he's been released, would be unconscionable."

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear a challenge to Black's libel suit against 11 associates who accused him of running Hollinger like a "corporate kleptocracy."

Most of the associates are U.S. citizens and they prefer the softer libel laws in the U.S. to those in Canada.

It will be up to Black to prove that his reputation was damaged.

With files from The Canadian Press