02 Feb 2012

Conrad Black’s Prosecutorial Nightmare

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Andrew McCarthy, in the New Criterion, reviews Conrad Black’s account of how he was financially ruined and jailed for more than two years: A Matter of Principle.

Increasingly [the] “rule of law” is just Big Government’s version of “social justice.” Heroes and villains are assigned their fates in accordance with the vanguard’s transgressive obsessions: income inequality, race, anti-Americanism, etc. The laws, rules and regulations proliferate until no one is invulnerable, reminiscent of Republican Rome’s death throes, when the emperor Nero (as Justice Antonin Scalia recounts in A Matter of Interpretation) posted his edicts high up on the pillars, rendering them impossible to read. Defendants are capriciously selected, made an example of, as much for what they represent as for what they’ve done. If you are a Democratic former National Security Adviser filching classified documents from the national archives or a Black Panther swinging a billy-club outside a polling station, you get our understanding. If you are Big Tobacco or Conrad Black, you’d better get counsel. Quaint notions of culpability are beside the point, because law is not about maintaining order but inculcating “our values.” Guilt and innocence are as irrelevant as the mordantly obvious question that rolled off my underwhelmed lips when the tobacco investigation was broached—How can there be fraud when the commercial activity is legal and everybody’s eyes are open to the risks?

Lord Black found out how, the hard way. He spent over thirty years building modest publishing enterprises into an international powerhouse that answered a market craving for professional reporting coupled with a right-of-center editorial voice. …

Through grit and acumen, though, starting with a small paper he bought for $500, Black and his business partners put together a transcontinental dynamo that became a force in Anglo-American politics and created nearly $2 billion in value.

That delighted most of the shareholders, but not all of them. And here we come to this wrenching tale’s first wolf in sheep’s clothing: the “corporate governance” movement, waving the Orwellian banner of “shareholders’ rights.” In a free market, personal profit is not a sin but an objective, and notions of “value” vary widely—some seeking to maximize quick financial gain, others in a business for the long haul, prioritizing reasonable returns and growth. Economic liberty accommodates this diversity, and the small but salient role of law enforcement is to guard against theft and extortion, while the civil courts referee contractual disputes and tortious misbehavior.

Corporate governance, as the racket styles itself, is a euphemism for the imposition of one-size-fits-all ethics regulations on business practices. It coerces conformance with the vanguard’s professed ideals, subordinating the creation of wealth to trendy, expansive notions of “fairness” and a “good corporate citizenship.” It does this by worsening the metastasis of legal and administrative regimes, whose ominous presence engenders a climate wherein the mere suspicion of wrongdoing, let alone formal accusation, can be a profitable venture’s undoing. …

Black… coins his own neologism to describe the dystopia he makes of modern America: a “prosecutocracy.”

When he finally got his day in court, Black and his co-defendants destroyed the foundation of the government’s case: There had been no fraud—much less tax fraud and racketeering, a charge the Justice Department usually reserves for hitmen. David Radler, the prosecution’s slippery star witness and Black’s estranged business partner, was ground to pulp in cross-examination. The self-serving amnesia of the independent directors proved incredible in the face of the countless times they were shown to have signed off on the purportedly secret management fees.

The jury acquitted the defendants on the fraud trumpeted by Breeden and echoed by the Justice Department. Yet the government had an escape hatch: the ever-elastic theory of denying “honest services.” …

Black was convicted on three counts of this hopelessly vague offense.

Let’s hope that Lord Black’s comeback, when he is finally released this Spring, and revenge, will be as complete as those of Edmond Dantès.

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One Feedback on "Conrad Black’s Prosecutorial Nightmare"

tom brunswick

Dear Sirs:

sadly, the US judicial system is very politicized, extremely vindictive and fundamentally flawed in almost every respect. The case against Black is a classic example of the abuse of the judicial system and how an innocent person can be destroyed, harassed and bankrupted for refusing to agree to a totally spurious “plea bargain” because he won’t admit to a crime he hasn’t committed! Black got shafted by Judge Posner in Chicago who to flatter his own ego ignored a unanimous decision of the US Supreme Court and sent Black back to prison on a technicality which only made the gross injustice already committed even worse. This case and many others like it are a total travesty and a disgrace for American “justice”.



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