I congratulate my old boss on his victory at the Supreme Court. One of the most unattractive features of the federal justice system is the way that narrowly drawn laws metastasize over time to cover anything that catches a prosecutor’s eye. When Conrad first got into this mess, and I first got a glimpse of the steamroller heading toward him, I said there’s no point trying to fight this thing, and in his shoes I’d just clean out my bank accounts and scram to Belize.
“Oh, you’d have to go a lot further than Belize,” he said, mordantly. More to the point, he wasn’t interested in any solution to his problems short of total exoneration and vindication. So he fought back, and at great cost and over a long time he has clawed back 95 per cent of the case against him – yet he remains in jail.
Nobody who sees the system close up can be sanguine about it*. For a start, this would not have been a criminal case in any other advanced Western democracy. Second, the pressure the SEC and U.S. Attorney can bring to bear on almost anyone around the accused tips the scales against a fair trial (the threat of “Wells letters” to fading A-listers dependent on corporate directorships for their livelihood, etc.). Third, the combination of a jury box plus dozens of charges makes it an easy temptation for jurors to split the difference and acquit on most but convict on just enough to destroy your life.
Conrad will regain his liberty but he will never get his life back. For the rest of us, it’s worth noting that, even before the industry’s recent difficulties, very few people know how to run newspapers. Conrad did. The Chicago Sun-Times, The National Post and the Southam papers in Canada, the Telegraph Group in London, and many others are all worse without him.
Meanwhile, the man appointed to “clean up” Conrad’s company, Richard Breeden, is on course to become the world’s first corporate-governance billionaire. Funny, that.
(*My friend Andy McCarthy may disagree, but I doubt even he would want to look too closely at how the corporate-fraud sausage is made.)