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Young prosecution star gets the nod to close

When Julie Ruder stands before the jury hearing the Conrad Black trial this morning, she'll do everything she can to persuade jurors that Lord Black should go to jail.

On paper, Ms. Ruder looks like an unlikely choice to lead closing arguments for the prosecution. She has barely four years experience as a prosecutor and she is about half Lord Black's age. But over the course of the three-month trial, Ms. Ruder has proved to be one of the most effective lawyers in the courtroom. Her low-key, precise style has won kudos from other attorneys and an ex-juror who said Ms. Ruder should be leading the prosecution.

"She has a good sense of things," said Sandra Grubar, who served on the jury for three weeks before asking to leave to take care of her sick father.

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Even one of the defence lawyers privately acknowledged early in the trial that Ms. Ruder had caused their side considerable damage through her questioning of some witnesses.

Ms. Ruder, a single mother with two children, joined the United States Attorney's Office in Chicago in 2003. She left a law firm where she had specialized in business litigation for six years.

"I'd had my second baby, and I was spending a significant amount of time involving my career," she told the ABA Journal, the magazine of the American Bar Association. "It was starting to be more important to me that my work be meaningful and my time was spent doing something that mattered."

Ms. Ruder has played a more backup role at Lord Black's trial, although she has examined some of the key prosecution witnesses. In court, she comes across as organized and exacting, frequently stressing points with short, sharp hand motions.

Her style was best illustrated during her cross examination of Ken Whyte, the editor of Maclean's magazine who testified for Lord Black.

Ms. Ruder kept on track despite Mr. Whyte's sometimes challenging replies to her questions. In the end, she used Mr. Whyte's testimony to land some key points for the prosecution, raising questions about a $100,000 bonus Mr. Whyte received thanks to Lord Black and confirming that Lord Black was on vacation in July of 2001 when he used the company plane to go to Bora Bora.

Ms. Ruder has been preparing for closing arguments for several days. She has been following testimony closely, making notes of points she wants to raise. On Friday, she could be seen in an empty courtroom practising her delivery in front of a group that included lead prosecutor Eric Sussman.

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During a hearing last week on legal motions, Ms. Ruder gave some hints of what she will focus on today. She will stress to the jury that the people who bought newspaper titles from Hollinger International Inc., did not want Lord Black or the other executives included in non-competition agreements. Much of the prosecution's case revolves around allegations the men inserted themselves into the agreements and then skimmed off some of the related payments. The defendants argue the payments were legal and approved.

To back up her arguments, Ms. Ruder will point to the testimony of Mike Reed, one of the buyers, who told the jury that "it just didn't seem like the right thing to do." Another example will be Thomas Henson, a lawyer for one of the buyers, who testified that he refused to wire non-competition payments directly to Lord Black and the others.

"It was obvious to them that this appeared wrong, that this smelled bad," Ms. Ruder told the court during the hearing.

However Lord Black's case turns out, it does not appear that Ms. Ruder will be leaving the prosecution office any time soon. In the ABA interview, she talked about how she explained her job to her young son.

"The way I've described it is that I try to help and make things safer for him, and there are people who do bad things," Ms. Ruder said. "So my job is to find out who did the bad thing and go to court."

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