Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Conrad Black Tempts US Supreme Court With "Honest Services" Argument

While his appeal does not directly impact his conviction on obstruction of justice charges, former Canadian magnate Conrad Black appeared to find a highly receptive audience yesterday among U.S. Supreme Court Justices for his argument against the constitutionality of the vague, "honest services" law under which he was convicted in 2007.

Washington Post reports:
A federal law that makes it a crime to deprive the public or one's employer of "honest services" is a favorite of prosecutors on the hunt for corrupt politicians and self-dealing corporate honchos.

But it found few admirers Tuesday at the Supreme Court.

From one end of the mahogany bench to the other, and across the court's notable ideological divide, justices took turns criticizing the 1988 law that makes it a crime to "deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." The most frequent complaint was that it is so vague that it is impossible for the average person to know what is being made illegal.

To decide the honest-services law, the court has taken three cases, including one from convicted newspaper tycoon Conrad M. Black. He argues that he should not have been convicted without the government proving that his unusual pay arrangement cheated the company he once headed.

More background from Wikipedia:

Black was convicted in Illinois U.S. District Court on 13 July 2007 and sentenced to serve 78 months in federal prison, pay Hollinger $6.1 million and a fine of $125,000.

Black was found guilty of diverting funds for personal benefit from money due Hollinger International when the company sold certain publishing assets and other irregularities. For example, in 2000, in an illegal and surreptitious arrangement that came to be known as the "Lerner Exchange," Black acquired Chicago's Lerner Newspapers and sold it to Hollinger.[3] He also obstructed justice by taking possession of documents to which he was not entitled.[4]

The Court's decision is expected in June, 2010. Lord Black remains incarcerated in Florida, and did not appear at the hearing.

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