Conrad Black just became the first of the white-collar convicts to gain freedom under a new Supreme Court decision. Black, a former media mogul, has been released on bail. His sentence is being interrupted for an appeal based on the Supreme Court's recent treatment of the "honest services" law--a bit of a catch-all law used to prosecute a variety of of corporate misdeeds. It criminalized any action which "deprive[s] another of the intangible right of honest services." The Supreme Court said that that's too vague.
So what's the significance of Black's release? Is Black, himself, likely home free? And, if so, is that good or bad? Here's a sample of the commentary:
- Watch Closely "The case," writes legal journalist Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, "will be one of the first to test what authority remains for federal prosecutors when they press charges for 'honest services' fraud."
- 'Congratulations to Conrad Black!' Black is a regular National Review contributor, and his colleague Rick Brookhiser wishes sincerely that, in this case "vindication follow freedom." He quite clearly sees the release on bail as a positive development:
Black's troubles began just as he was coming into his own as a historian with his admiring biography of FDR. He kept writing while he was confined, but he can now enjoy the historian’s life, speaking, appearing on TV, or teaching, as much as he wishes, and his colleagues can enjoy his company.
- 'Not Exactly Nelson Mandela Emerging from Victor Verster Prison,' The Independent reminds readers, pointing out the multiple perspectives on Black's original prosecution, which was, in essence, about "stealing from his company's shareholders." They also add that Black's "will be a restricted sort of freedom," confined to the U.S., for example. "But the bigger question is whether this will turn out like the Hundred Days of Black's hero Napoleon--a lively but brief campaign before the inevitable and final end. Or will it mark the beginning of an incredible resurrection, another remarkable chapter in an extraordinary career?"
- He May Yet Be Brought Down, muses George Tombs, author of an unauthorized biography of Black. Acknowledging supporters' view that Black "has been unfairly victimised by his liberal enemies (he is a neoconservative) ... and laid low by America's arbitrary, corrupt justice system," he says he nevertheless
can't help remembering what another Canadian who made good in London newspapers told me back in 2004, when Black's problems were just beginning to become apparent: the second Lord Thomson of Fleet (known in Canada simply as Ken Thomson), former owner of the Times, told me: "Things will end very badly for Conrad. He has taken far too much money out of his company. He got greedy, and he will pay for it."
- Agreed: 'A Major Roadblock Remains,' writes Martha Neil for the American Bar Association Journal. Black's legal fees have been and will be enormous, and his company, Hollinger International, stopped covering them through insurance in 2003 when "the company went bankrupt." That means "Black is on his own in litigation that may test the extent of his wealth."