Like most Canadians, I was shocked when my fellow media mogul, Lord Black of Crossharbour (I just call him Conrad), was yanked in front of the Yankee system of justice by that showbizzy prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald who has toppled some bigshots in the States.
To get some insight into what my fellow publisher and writer is going through, I sought the counsel of my friend Slovo the shoemaker who had many run ins with the law in his old country.
It’s not a subject one just brings up in front of Slovo, otherwise he completely ignores you and keeps hammering away on soles. So I sort of edged into the topic.
“So do you think a billionaire can get a fair trial in the United States when the jurors are ordinary poor people?” I ask.
He looks up, still bent over his work. An eyebrow arches and his eyelids narrow. His hammer rests. “The only thing you have in common with that guy is you both have smart wives,” says Slovo.
“I didn’t say we had anything in common,” I reply. “We’re talking about Conrad Black, right?”
“Of course we’re talking about Conrad Black,” snaps Slovo. “You want to know why they’re going after him?”
“Because he’s there.”
“Do you mean he’s there in the Chicago courtroom?”
“I mean he has made himself a target for prosecutors,” pronounces Slovo. “Prosecutors who make it big get big because they take down big people.”
“You mean they go trophy hunting?”
“Exactly!” says Slovo as he resumes hammering on a shoe. “Conrad Black is a big trophy. Like an elephant with huge tusks and a loud roar. That’s a trophy for any hunter’s wall. It doesn’t matter which country he’s in.”
“Okay,” I reply, “I can see that. After all, how do you tell whether a prosecutor is performing unless he gets a lot of convictions? Losing a case certainly can’t help anyone’s career.”
“Conrad Black didn’t need to do anything illegal,” says Slovo. “All he had to do was get in a position where he could be accused of doing something illegal.”
“Like those non-compete payments?”
“But doesn’t he have a right to sell his personal pledge not to start up a competing publication where his company has sold off a publication?
“So what’s wrong with that?”
“That’s why he says he’ll be acquitted.”
“It’s not that certain,” replied Slovo. “The trophy hunters don’t get anything if they don’t take down their trophies, so they use every weapon they can think of.”
“What were the non-competes, the elephant gun?”
“Correct. So when the big gun doesn’t kill the game, the trophy hunter relies on everything else, including a slingshot.”
“Okay. What is the slingshot in this case?” I ask.
“For a jury of working peoples like me the prosecutor would have to look like a really good guy. He would have to convince me that a rich guy like Black padded his expense account and stole the money from shareholders,” Slovo replied. “That’s tough because there were so many celebrities surrounding Black all the time the spending was going on and he’s in the celebrity business. So it’s all business related.”
“Is that why Fitzgerald isn’t prosecuting the case himself? Because jurors will see he’s a trophy hunter?”
“Correct. In order to convict a man who has done nothing wrong, this kind of jury must really love the prosecutor enough to think he could never lie to them and maybe the other guy did something bad they can’t quite understand. The prosecutor must make white into black.”
“What about envy? Is that a motive for these people to convict?” I ask.
Slovo is pounding again on a shoe. “Nah. These guys know there are rich people who live ridiculous lives of luxury. Envy won’t work on them. It doesn’t work on me. They’ve got to love the prosecutor. Fitzgerald is good at making grand juries love him because he is holding them by the hands the whole way. It’s different in the courtroom. The defence lawyers are also holding hands with the jury and they want to be loved, too.”
“How about when Conrad packed up some papers from his beautiful historic building at 10 Toronto St. in Old Town Toronto?”
“Small potatoes. Means nothing to the jury because he says they were private papers and he was being evicted.”
“Do the prosecutors have to play fair?” I ask.
“They have to pretend to play fair in Canada, but in the U.S. they don’t even have to pretend,” says Slovo. “In Black’s case they tried to take all his money away so he couldn’t afford good lawyers. They do that kind of thing all the time. They make up charges against small fry and get them to testify against the big fish,” Says Slovo.
Then he pauses and adds almost nostalgically, “It reminds me of the old country.”