U.S. top court hears ex-media baron Conrad Black's appeal

Tue Dec 8, 2009 2:43pm EST
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By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A lawyer for former media baron Conrad Black urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to overturn his fraud conviction, and several justices asked whether the federal law at issue was too vague.

The Canadian-born Black, a member of Britain's House of Lords, has been in prison since March 2008, when he began serving a 6 1/2-year sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice.

Attorney Miguel Estrada, representing Black and two ex-colleagues who were found guilty of defrauding shareholders of one-time newspaper publishing giant Hollinger International Inc, argued before the Supreme Court that all convictions in the case must be overturned.

A U.S. jury in Chicago found the three men guilty of swindling the company out of $6.1 million by giving themselves illegal bonuses. Hollinger was once the world's third-largest publisher of English-language newspapers.

At issue in the case is a 28-word law that the U.S. Congress adopted in 1988 that makes it illegal for public officials and executives to commit fraud by depriving those they work for of the right to "honest services."

The law has been used in a number of high-profile business cases, including that of former Enron Corp Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling, whose case the Supreme Court is expected to hear in March.

It also has been used in a wide range of public corruption cases, including those of disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and two former Illinois governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday considered two cases -- one involving Black and the other involving former Alaska legislator Bruce Weyhrauch, who was charged under the law.   Continued...