CHICAGO (AP) – A jury in the racketeering and fraud trial of fallen media tycoon Conrad Black sent a note to the judge Tuesday saying they are unable to reach a verdict after nine days of deliberations and asking for advice.
In response, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve briefly called the jurors into her courtroom and told them they must make “every reasonable effort” to reach a unanimous decision. The jurors then returned to their deliberations.
The jurors’ note, read to the court by St. Eve, said: “We have discussed and deliberated on all the evidence and are still unable to reach a unanimous verdict on one or more counts. Please advise.”
The note was signed by the jury foreman and ended with: “P.S. We have read the jury instructions very carefully.”
Black and three other defendants are accused of swindling shareholders in the Hollinger International Inc. newspaper empire out of more than $60 million. Black faces 13 criminal counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud and racketeering.
The trial began March 20. In total, the jurors are considering 42 counts against the four individuals and had available for review thousands of pages of factual documents about newspaper sales.
Black, 62, a member of the British House of Lords, faces a maximum penalty of 101 years in federal prison if convicted on all counts against him, although lawyers said a sentence anywhere near that stiff was unrealistic.
After St. Eve read the jurors’ note but before she called them back into the courtroom, Ronald Safer – an attorney for defendant Mark Kipnis and speaking for the defense – said the judge should accept that the jury was unable to reach a verdict.
He later told reporters outside court that he was not calling for a mistrial, instead saying the jurors should be able to come back with verdicts on “whatever they have.”
Lead prosecutor Eric Sussman told St. Eve that the government put the actual time of deliberations at only about seven full days and urged that the jurors continue trying to reach a verdict. He also raised the possibility of giving the jurors the option of returning a partial verdict, meaning the decisions they had already agreed upon.
The judge told the attorneys the jury has paid “incredible attention” throughout the trial. “I do think there is some benefit to bringing the jury back into the courtroom and reinstructing them,” she said before calling the jurors to appear before her.
Bernard Harcourt, a University of Chicago law professor, said judges in such cases try to impress upon jurors the importance of reaching a verdict. Harcourt has been following the trial but was not at the courthouse.
“Basically, it’s to give them a kick in the pants, and to say let’s finish this thing,” he said.
Of the jury’s note on the impasse, Harcourt said, “I suspect that it must be somewhat more reassuring to the defense team more so than the prosecutors,” he said.
Harcourt said the impasse might fuel the argument that there are some cases that are simply too complicated for lay juries. But he dismissed the argument in this instance, calling the trial a “relatively conventional white-collar case.”
“The allegation is one of self-dealing and excessive self-dealing and I think jurors are good at figuring out” such allegations, he said.
Hollinger International once owned community papers across the United States and Canada as well as the Chicago Sun-Times, the Toronto-based National Post, The Daily Telegraph of London and Israel’s Jerusalem Post. The Sun-Times is the only large paper remaining and the name of the company has been changed to Sun-Times News Group.
Black and fellow ex-Hollinger executives Jack Boultbee and Peter Atkinson, along with Chicago lawyer Kipnis, are accused of participating in schemes in which more than $60 million was siphoned from the company. Most of that was from payments received in exchange for promises not to compete with the new owners of U.S. and Canadian newspapers the executives had just sold. All have pleaded not guilty.
Black and former Hollinger International vice presidents Boultbee and Atkinson got the money along with the company’s No. 2 man, F. David Radler, who has pleaded guilty and was the government’s star witness. Radler was promised a lenient 29-month sentence for testifying.
Kipnis, who is accused of helping to engineer the payments, never pocketed any of them. But he received $150,000 in bonuses under Black.
Associated Press Writer Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.