By: E&P Staff
Ruling on a challenge by the Globe & Mail in Toronto, an Ontario appeals court said a provincial judge erred in sealing an agreement freezing the assets of disgraced former press baron Conrad Black and his wife, the columnist Barbara Amiel Black.
The appeals court overturned the protective order issued by Ontario Superior Court Justice Colin Campbell, and said the newspaper had the right to a hearing to unseal terms of the agreement.
The Globe’s constitutional press freedoms were “adversely affected” by the order, the court ruled, according to an account by the newspaper’s media reporter Paul Waldie.
“The public’s ability to inspect court records is an integral part of the open court principle,” wrote Judge Russell Juriansz, quoted in a Bloomberg report by Joe Schneider.
In a series of events in late 2006, Hollinger Inc. — the Toronto-based holding company that Black once used to run his newspaper empire — in a closed hearing obtained a so-called “Mareva order” that froze the Blacks’ access to any of their assets worldwide.
The order put the free-spending couple on a $49,000 monthly budget.
Hollinger was suing Conrad Black and other top Hollinger executives for $700 million, alleging he had fraudulently moved newspapers from the holding company to the Hollinger International publishing company, the parent of the Chicago Sun-Times. Hollinger Inc. said the order was necessary to prevent the couple from hiding or disposing of assets before a judgment in the suit.
Soon after Hollinger obtained the freeze, it negotiated an agreement with Black about access to his assets, and spending allowances.
The terms were sealed by Justice Campbell, who rejected a Globe & Mail legal bid to make the agreement public.
Black’s trial on U.S. criminal charges of fraud, obstruction of justice, and tax evasion had not yet started in Chicago. Campbell ruled releasing terms of the freeze would prejudice Black’s defense.
The appeals court noted that Black’s conviction on three fraud charges and obstruction of justice obviated that reason for keeping the terms secret. In February, Black began serving a 6 1/2-year sentence in a Florida prison. He maintains his innocence, and, along with three co-defendants, is appealing his conviction.