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Judge skeptical of Black lawyer’s arguments

Conrad Black's lawyer got a rough ride in a Chicago appeal court Wednesday with one judge calling some of the arguments raised “unreasonable.”

Lord Black's lawyer, Miguel Estrada, argued that because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June, which changed the fraud statute, all of the criminal charges against Lord Black should be reversed. The Supreme Court narrowed the definition of “honest services” which was a key part of the fraud law used to convict Lord Black.

“It is our submission that none of the fraud or obstruction of justice charges can survive,” Estrada told the three-judge panel.

But Judge Richard Posner went after Estrada and picked apart his arguments. Judge Posner said jurors could have convicted Lord Black of at least one fraud charge without relying on “honest services.” That charge involved $600,000 US Lord Black and three other former executives of Hollinger International Inc. took from the company. Judge Posner said that looked like a straight-forward fraud that had nothing to do with the “honest services” part of the fraud law. Estrada argued that prosecutors relied on the honest services doctrine throughout the case.

Judge Posner brushed aside Estrada's comments, saying at one point “that doesn't make sense.”

But he and the other two judges seemed more accepting that two other fraud charges could be reversed because they centred more around honest services.

Lord Black was convicted of three fraud charges and one count of obstruction.

The court could reverse two of the fraud charges and keep one, as well as the obstruction charge. Lord Black would then have to be re-sentenced. He received a six-and-half-year sentence on all the charges but was released on bail in July.

Hugh Totten, a Chicago lawyer following the case and attending the hearing, said he doubted the judges would reverse the obstruction charge. However he said they seemed divided on the fraud charges.

Lord Black didn't attend the hearing.

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