By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former media baron Conrad Black goes back to court on Friday when a judge will decide whether the 29 months he has spent in prison for defrauding shareholders and obstructing justice were enough.
Judge Amy St. Eve of U.S. District Court, who presided over Black's 2007 trial, could order the member of Britain's House of Lords to finish his original 78-month sentence, or she could shorten his punishment or let him go.
Black, 66, was released from prison in July 2010 after a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that was joined by former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling.
The court used their cases to narrow the scope of the federal "honest services" law, ruling that breaking an obligation to be honest with shareholders or constituents must involve actual bribes or kickbacks to be a crime.
An appeals court subsequently threw out two of three fraud convictions against Black, urging prosecutors not to retry him even though the court said the evidence showed he would probably be found guilty again.
"There's a public perception that if convictions are reversed that there will be a decrease of sentence, but that's not how sentencing guidelines work," said attorney Mark Flessner, a former prosecutor who has followed the case. "She has the discretion," he said, referring to Judge St. Eve.
Black was convicted of scheming with partner David Radler and other executives of siphoning off millions of dollars in proceeds from the sales of newspapers as they unwound Hollinger International, then the world's third-largest publisher of English-language newspapers. It once operated the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post, London's Daily Telegraph and dozens of other newspapers across North America.
Prosecutors want Black sent back to finish the 78-month sentence at Coleman Prison in Florida, saying the facts remain that he stole from Hollinger shareholders. They argue that Black has not accepted responsibility for the wrongdoing and had to be forced to repay $30 million in restitution.
Black's attorneys argued he should not be sent back to prison because the remaining fraud conviction involved a smaller $600,000 loss for Hollinger shareholders compared with the dismissed charges. Also, his co-defendants have served their sentences and been freed, Black has exhibited exemplary behavior in prison, and he suffers from ill health.
INSPIRED TEACHER OR CONDESCENDING SNOB?
Fellow prisoners were quoted as saying Black was an inspired history teacher who would make time for them and offered a wealth of useful advice.
In contrast, prosecutors said inmate Black, who renounced his Canadian citizenship 2001 to become Lord Black of Crossharbour, was an uninterested instructor and condescending, asking at one point to be addressed as Lord Black.
"He projected the attitude that he was better than others in the class, both faculty and students," Carrie DeLaGarza, an educator at Coleman prison, said in a court document.
Prison officials said Black treated some prisoners like servants, getting them to cook and clean for him.
The defense called the government's effort to discredit Black "a drive-by disparagement of Mr. Black which reveals nothing but the intensity of the government's dislike for him and the fervency of their hope ... that he will not be shown the leniency that is appropriate in connection with this resentencing proceeding."
The case is USA v Black et al, 05-cr-00727.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)