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In Depth

Conrad Black

From the inside

A spectator's view of the week's courtroom happenings

Last Updated May 18, 2007

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.

The week began at 7 a.m. Monday in the line outside the courtroom on the 12th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago. I was one of but a handful of early birds who included Peter Worthington of the Toronto Sun, Maclean's Mark Steyn, and a most charming older couple, Donalda and Dick Robarts, of Windsor, Ont.

It turns out that Dick Robarts planned a trip to Chicago for what he described as "Mother's Day entertainment" for his "bride." Dick Robarts is a retired industrial realtor and together, the charming couple are the parents of seven — six girls and one boy.

There were two other Canadians in line that morning as well. Two good-looking men in their late 40s or early 50s who travelled from Halifax to Chicago just for the trial, they said. They declined to give their names, but not their opinions about the trial.

"The whole thing is a crock," one of them said. "I see this as just creative tax planning. No way is Conrad guilty."

During the morning break, I asked my new-found friends, the Robarts, how they were enjoying the trial. Donalda appeared quite shaken by the tough, brash, no-nonsense approach of Conrad Black's lawyer, Eddie Greenspan. "Why, I wouldn't even know my own name when they got finished with me," she said. She added that she wasn't sure how the jury could relate to Conrad's lifestyle. "Well, how many people live like he does?"

I watched Donalda Robarts in deep conversation with Barbara Amiel Black. When she finished, I learned that Robarts, who is staying at the Ritz Carlton where the Blacks are also registered, had dropped off a gift for them at the front desk — orange marmalade. "Not just any orange marmalade, but my award-winning orange marmalade."

She told me how Barbara had thanked her. I had watched earlier as Barbara took Donalda by the hand to introduce her to Conrad.

A sweet moment in what had been an intense morning.

While we left court on May 10 — the end of David Radler's first week on the stand — we saw a formidable star witness for the prosecution. But by the following Monday, all that had changed. We quickly saw Radler rattled under a withering cross-examination. Greenspan asked him if he knew about the Canadian rules of parole — that he would be released after serving just six months of his 29-month sentence.

When Radler replied that he did not know that, Greenspan glibly replied, "I will send you a bill."

And when asked if knew that Ferndale, a Canadian prison, has farm-raised cattle and golf therapy, Radler replied, "As a non-golfer, it won't help me much."

Prosecution on the defensive

By the end of the day you could tell by the looks on the faces of the prosecution team that the defence was scoring big time. The team's desperation became even more apparent after prosecutor Eric Sussman jumped up in response to Greenspan's statement to Radler that, "The only thing the jury has is your word." Sussman not only objected but added, "The jury has more evidence."

We saw an angry Judge Amy St. Eve for the first time, who before the noon break admonished the lawyers after the jurors had left the courtroom — particularly Sussman.

She told Sussman that repeatedly jumping up in front of the jury was "wrong and improper." She said it was fine to argue at sidebar — a discussion by lawyers and judge before the bench, out of earshot of jurors and spectators — but added, "I will not tolerate this."

Peter Worthington whispered to me about this time that, "The sidebars remind me of crows around roadkill."

Family's united front

During the week we saw a most united front on the part of Lord Black's family. Barbara sat with her stepdaughter, Alana, and stepson, Jonathan. It is Alana who appears not to have missed a single day in nine weeks — in fact, Mrs. Robarts commented: "What a charming little girl. I am struck how she is sticking through this."

It was clear Black's wife and children are not just there to make an impression.

All three paid close attention all week long. Jonathan, who is beyond handsome and came dressed in a suit, sat during Radler's testimony with his chin in his hands, staring intently.

If looks could kill, Radler was a dead man. And Barbara and Alana could often be seen twisting and turning to get a better view of Radler on the stand.

During breaks, Barbara often whispered to Conrad and has been seen from time to time passing him a note. As they exit the courtroom, the Blacks are clearly a team — Barbara and Conrad almost always hold hands. In her other hand, she often holds a pretty lace hanky.

The wife of former Hollinger executive (and co-defendant) Jack Boultbee sat in the courtroom all week as well. She looks very serious; I have never seen her smile. She always has Chanel sunglasses pulling back her hair.

Mark Kipnis' mother was there. He's the former Hollinger legal counsel who's facing charges that he helped to facilitate the alleged fraud. On Wednesday, following defence lawyer Ron Safer's brilliant cross-examination of Radler (which seemed to pave the way for Kipnis' exoneration), I asked Mrs. Kipnis if she felt better now. She replied that she did, but added: "It's too bad we have to be here at all."

United States District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald sat in court Thursday morning. During the morning break, he had the prosecution team in a huddle — and they were furiously taking notes.

As we came back into the courtroom, Worthington turned to me and said, "Sussman is shrinking inside that suit."

In a light moment, just as court was finishing for the day (and week) on Thursday, Alana Black was trying very hard not to laugh. Obviously something struck her as very funny and Barbara was rubbing her back trying also not burst out in laughter. Alana had to briefly leave the room but returned composed.

Later, I found myself next to Barbara in the ladies' room. I mentioned that I have a daughter Alana's age and that whatever was so funny must have provided nice comic relief. Barbara smiled and said, "Well, we have to keep ourselves going."

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External Links

Hollinger investigation
Black indictment (pdf file)
Hollinger Inc.
The House of Lords

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