CHICAGO — Conrad Black got some good news in his long-running legal saga when U.S. prosecutors announced Thursday that they don't intend to retry the former media mogul on fraud convictions that an appellate court had tossed out.
During the status hearing in Chicago, Judge Amy St. Eve also set a June 24 resentencing date for Black on two convictions that appellate judges did uphold in October. Defense attorneys asked for a June date to give them a chance to appeal Black's case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Black – whose media empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph of London and smaller papers across the U.S. and Canada – was freed on bail from a Florida prison last year as he appealed his 2007 conviction for defrauding investors in Hollinger International Inc.
The Canadian-born Black, 66, looked relaxed during his appearance at the courthouse, standing with his hands in his pockets, surveying the courtroom before proceedings started and huddling with his lawyers.
As he walked to a waiting car after the 15-minute hearing, he sounded upbeat when asked if he thought he would manage to stay out from behind bars.
"I am hopeful," he said, before ducking throngs of cameras and stepping into a black sedan.
While prosecutors could have chosen to retry Black on the overturned convictions, the appeals court strongly discouraged that course in its October ruling, warning that the government risked throwing scarce resources at drawn-out litigation.
At the resentencing in June, St. Eve could decide that Black, who had served two years of his 6 1/2-year sentence, should return to prison for months or years more. She could also sentence him to time served, thereby setting him free for good.
St. Eve said Thursday she would ask for a new pre-sentencing report from federal authorities to help guide her. At the resentencing, both sides will be able to present arguments or even call witnesses to back up their positions on what would constitute an appropriate sentence.
Before proceedings even get to that point, the defense hopes for a positive sign from the U.S. Supreme Court that it might consider overturning Black's two remaining convictions.
Black's attorney, Miguel Estrada, told the judge the defense intends to ask the Supreme Court by February to review the case. Before Black's lawyers could file a full appeal, the high court would have to agree to hear the case – something that is far from a given.
As he left the courthouse, Black said he understood his fate is in the high court's hands.
"We are waiting on the Supreme Court," he said.
St. Eve scheduled another status hearing for May 9. She denied a request by the defense for Black to be able to skip that hearing, saying he would have to appear.
Black is barred from leaving the United States while out on bail, and his British-issued passport seized by the court has now expired. St. Eve signed a one-page order this week that would serve as his new ID, enabling him to travel by air within the continental U.S. After his release from prison on bail, Black moved into an oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach, Fla.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had reversed two of Black's fraud convictions in October by citing a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June that sharply curtailed the disputed "honest services" laws that underpinned part of Black's case.
At the same time, it let stand one fraud and one obstruction of justice conviction, concluding they were not affected by the Supreme Court's ruling. The fraud conviction, the judges found, involved Black and others taking $600,000 and had nothing to do with honest services: They concluded it was straightforward theft.
The Supreme Court's ruling scaling back the honest services laws offered a lifeline to Black and other public figures convicted at least in part based on the provisions, including Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO of disgraced energy giant Enron Corp.
Defense lawyers have criticized honest services laws as vague and a last resort of prosecutors when they couldn't show money changed hands. Watchdogs countered they were key to fighting white-collar and public fraud.