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Legal bid to end Black's jail term

A lawyer for Conrad Black invoked a landmark US Supreme Court ruling and Disney character Minnie Mouse in asking appellate judges to throw out the former media mogul's 2007 conviction and keep him out of prison for good.

The sometimes lively hearing at the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago was the latest chapter in Black's long-running legal saga, which includes earlier failed attempts to overturn his conviction for defrauding Hollinger International investors.

But a Supreme Court decision in June that sharply curtailed so-called "honest services" laws used to help convict Black, 66, and other public figures over the years may offer his best chance of winning his freedom.

Addressing a three-judge panel in a crowded courtroom, defence lawyer Miguel Estrada said jurors gave too much weight to now-defunct honest services provisions in convicting Black of fraud and obstructing justice. "It's our submission that none of the fraud or obstruction of justice charges can survive," Mr Estrada said, standing at a podium close to the judges.

Prosecutor Edmond Chang disagreed. While conceding the government broached honest services - that Black deprived the company of his faithful services as a corporate officer - during the trial, Mr Chang said a simpler, undisputed legal notion underpinned arguments to jurors; that Black stole money.

Black was freed on bail from a Florida federal prison two months ago pending a decision on his appeal. He'd served two years of a six and a half-year sentence. He was not at the latest hearing.

The two also clashed on Black's obstruction of justice conviction, which resulted after he removed boxes of documents from his office when already under scrutiny of investigators.

In arguing Black didn't obstruct anything because there wasn't a crime to obstruct, Mr Estrada employed an unlikely metaphor of a false accusation that he had an affair with Minnie Mouse. "If I (then) burn my Disney comics, I can't be convicted for trying to cover up a relationship with Minnie Mouse," he told the judges.

"On the contrary," Judge Posner quickly responded, drawing laughter from the crowded court. "You burned them because you were going to be prosecuted for Minnie Mouse."

While high-court justices limited the scope of the honest services law, it wasn't clear in the aftermath of the court's ruling where Black's case stood. That's left it to the 7th Circuit to determine whether to overturn Black's conviction in whole or in part.

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