Will former media mogul Conrad Black eventually head back to prison? Or will the flamboyant, 66-year-old's long-running legal saga end with a judge setting him free for good?
A status hearing Thursday in Chicago wasn't likely to answer those questions definitively, though it could provide clues about what U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve is inclined to do.
Two years into a 6 1/2-year sentence, Black was released last year from a Florida prison while he appealed his conviction for defrauding Hollinger International Inc. investors.
Black, whose media empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph of London, and community papers in the U.S. and Canada, was expected to attend Thursday's hearing.
An appeals court in October did reverse two of his fraud convictions, citing a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling drastically curtailing "honest services" laws that underpinned part of Black's case.
At the same time, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals let stand one fraud and one obstruction of justice conviction, concluding they were not affected by the landmark, high-court decision.
The fraud conviction, the judges found, involved Black and others taking $600,000 and had nothing to do with honest services: It was, they concluded, straightforward theft.
In the wake of Black's mixed success in appellate court, Judge St. Eve could choose to resentence Black on the tossed convictions or allow him to stay free based on time served.
Just what action St. Eve will take Thursday isn't clear.
Black's attorney, Miguel Estrada, did not return a message Wednesday seeking comment. And the U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment on what might happen at the hearing.
Judge St. Eve could schedule a date to resentence Black, though defense attorneys may want to delay resentencing until they exhaust their appeals options.
Prosecutors could attempt to retry Black on the overturned convictions. The appeals court discouraged that, however, warning it could throw scarce resources at drawn-out litigation.
The Supreme Court's ruling drastically scaling back honest services laws offered a lifeline to Black and other public figures convicted using the provisions, including Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO of disgraced energy giant Enron Corp.
Defense lawyers 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.
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