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Black loses bail plea — for now

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens refused on Thursday to order the release on bail of Canadian media mogul Conrad M. Black, but allowed Black’s lawyers to make a new plea for his freedom from a federal judge.  Stevens’ order, containing no explanation, can be found here.  The bail issue (application 08A1063) is separate from the Supreme Court’s planned review of Black’s conviction; the Justices will hear and decide that case next Term (Black, et al., v. U.S. 08-876).

Black, if he chooses to do so, can now take the bail issue back to a federal judge who earlier had concluded that Black need not be held while his case proceeded beyond his conviction in a high-profile executive compensation case involving accusations of fraud and obstruction of justice.

That judge, District Judge Amy J. St. Eve of Chicago, denied a request by the government — while Black was awaiting sentencing — to order him detained. He was then sentenced to a 78-month sentence, and went to prison when the Seventh Circuit Court refused further bail while he pursued an appeal to the Circuit Court.

Judge St. Eve had found that Black was not dangerous, and was not a flight risk, saying that to “run and hide” would not be consisent with what she had observed about his character.

After he went to prison, the Seventh Circuit upheld his conviction and sentence, and Black then appealed to the Supreme Court.  On May 18, the Justices granted review of his fraud conviction.  Black’s lawyers then applied for bail while that review went forward, saying that he should not be required to go through “the extra time-consuming steps” of asking Judge St. Eve or the Circuit Court for bail, since both sides had held firmly to their positions — the government resisting bail, Black insisting he should be granted his freedom.

After the Supreme Court agreed to review the convictions of Black and two other executives in his newspaper enterprise, Judge St. Eve granted bail to one of those executives — John A. Boultbee — pending Supreme Court review, without objection from the government  As a result, Black is the only one convicted in the case who remains in prison as of now.

The Justice Department told Justice Stevens that it continues to oppose Black’s release, arguing that the difference between his case and Boultbee’s is that Black was convicted of obstruction of justice, and the others were not.   Black has contended that this is not a sufficient basis to keep him confined, since a Supreme Court reversal of his fraud conviction could undermine the conviction or sentence on the obstruction count.