William F. Buckley

Some months ago I had a communication from a member of Conrad Black's defense team. The jury had just convicted him on four of the 13 charges brought against him. Said the lawyer to however many hundred people she addressed: "Over the next few weeks, the court will be pondering the future of Conrad Black. Please write to the judge about him and stress, if you will, what may be the extenuating factors she should consider in meting out sentence."

That was a painful commission for friends of Conrad Black. It seemed to this friend, as to quite a few others, that he probably was guilty on at least some of the charges. Now, being guilty of fraud and obstruction of justice (i.e., withholding evidence) is not quite the same thing as being Lee Harvey Oswald taking aim at the profile of John F. Kennedy in Dallas at noon on Nov. 22, 1963. And in any case, there were enough complications in this case to allow Black's lawyers to assert that what he had done was something this side of point-blank crime.

From the first day, Black had said that he didn't do it and, anyway, even if he did, it wasn't illegal. This is a form of "pleading in the alternative": John didn't kill the chicken, killing chickens isn't illegal, and in any event, here is a chicken alive and well.

I cautioned myself, in writing to the judge, not to get into that act. A judge who had sat through a four-month-long trial, listened to learned arguments by the prosecution and the defense as to form and fact, and heard a dozen witnesses testify as to what actually did happen, would be in no mood to be told by a journalist that the whole thing was crapola and maybe she should try out a different profession.

Well, I abided by that counsel, and I have to imagine that other friends of the defendant did the same thing.

But Conrad Black did not. He stand was absolutely consistent from Day One. The charges were foolish; they sought to vest in judicial infamy that which is in the nature of things blameless. Moreover, the people who were contending otherwise were obtuse and vindictive, and should be put away somewhere to prevent the toxification of the common law and the resources of reason on Earth.

One came upon friend after friend of the defendant, in the months before sentencing, who, while perhaps permitting themselves a smile of furtive satisfaction over the raw impiety of it all, would agree: Conrad is out of his mind to pursue that line of defense.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

Be the first to read William Buckley's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.