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Conrad Black and the blocked legal fees

A couple of excerpts from Mark Steyn's lengthy post-mortem in MacLean's on the trial:

Just before the case went to the jury, Conrad Black's two lead attorneys sent him a demand for an additional million bucks each. No messing around with billable hours and 15-minute increments and $27.59 for photocopying: just a nice round seven-figure sum by way of supplementary retainer.

A day or two before closing arguments to the 12 men and women who'll decide your fate is no time to pick a quarrel with your lawyers. Or, at any rate, yet another quarrel to add to those you're already having, and they're having with each other, and the American lawyer's associates are having with the Canadian lawyer, and the Canadian lawyer is having with his own associates, and your wife is having with all of them. So Conrad paid up....

when the U.S. Attorney in Chicago filed the criminal charges, Conrad Black found himself with a cash-flow problem: the feds had seized the $10-million proceeds from the Park Avenue apartment sale, and successfully tied up enough of his assets hither and yon that he didn't have the wherewithal for the big-time mouthpieces. That's a time-honoured technique of the United States government: they not only buy up the witnesses with plea deals and immunity agreements and SEC "Wells notices," but they like to ensure you don't have the wherewithal to do any legal shopping of your own. Hence, choking off the cash flow, without which your options narrow dramatically. Brendan Sullivan, for example, wanted a $25-million down payment to take the criminal case. Whether or not he would have won it for Conrad, the 10 mil from the apartment would have come in mighty handy toward the cover charge. Why did the feds seize the dough? Because, as the U.S. Attorney argued in this case, Black's purchase of the apartment from Hollinger was a theft from the company's shareholders. In case you're keeping score, the jury in Chicago found him not guilty on all charges relating to the apartment transaction. Yet the U.S. government is holding on to the money.


Just 'cuz. Because they can. And because the presumption of innocence which lies at the heart of English law is so corroded in modern U.S. jurisprudence that it seems entirely natural for the government to seize the proceeds of a "crime" before it's proved you've committed one.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.