A character reference written by Mayor Rob Ford for alleged drug dealer Alessandro Lisi could become public as early as Friday.
Mr. Ford composed the letter of support for Mr. Lisi, the mayor’s friend and occasional driver who was facing sentencing for threatening to kill his former girlfriend, according to a June 14 transcript of the sentencing hearing. Armed with the letter, Mr. Lisi received a suspended sentence and a two-year probation. He is now appealing.
It was during an appeal proceeding on Thursday that the Toronto Star brought forward an application to access the mayor’s letter and other exhibits.
“The public is presumptively entitled to access court records,” said Iris Fischer, a lawyer for the Star. “The media should not have to go to court to access these records.”
Justice Jane Kelly agreed that “there is nothing to suggest anything should be sealed,” but decided to give Mr. Lisi’s lawyer, Dominic Basile, time to review all the materials.
Mr. Basile has until Friday to register his opposition to disclosing the exhibits. If he doesn’t oppose it, the letter could be released Friday; if he does, arguments for and against disclosure would be made before Justice Kelly on Tuesday morning.
“Perhaps common sense will come to prevail on this issue,” Justice Kelly said.
Mr. Lisi recently came under police scrutiny after two media outlets – The Toronto Star and the U.S. gossip website Gawker – reported in May that drug dealers had tried to sell them an alleged video that purportedly shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine.
Toronto police have interviewed at least five former staffers in the mayor's office about attempts by people to retrieve the alleged video, according to sources close to the mayor's office. For his part, the mayor has called into question the existence of the video, and has denied that he uses crack cocaine. “I can't comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist,” he said in May.
Some of the questions police asked of the former staffers, according to sources, focused on Mr. Lisi, a regular late-night companion of the mayor, who was known to ferry him to events and, on one occasion, run interference with reporters.
On Oct. 1, Mr. Lisi was arrested on drug and conspiracy charges. At the time, the mayor said he was surprised by the charges and called Mr. Lisi “a good guy.”
Mr. Lisi’s conviction for threatening death was part of a much broader set of allegations that were levelled against him by Toronto police in September, 2011. At that time, he was charged with six criminal offences, charges that included assault, harassment and forcible confinement – alleged acts that the police said he had wrought upon an ex-girlfriend.
The 35-year-old accused drug dealer pleaded not guilty to all of the offences, and after a trial, five of the charges were dismissed by Mr. Justice Paul French. He was convicted of verbally threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend, however, which is the conviction he is now appealing.
In June of this year, he was given credit for four days of pre-trial custody and received a suspended sentence, meaning that he served no additional jail time. He was put on probation for two years, barred from owning any weapons for five years and ordered to provide a DNA sample to be held on file by law enforcement.
This is not the first time Mr. Ford has spoken out on behalf of an associate facing a criminal prosecution. In 2007, when he was still a city councillor, he testified at the sentencing of a young man who had previously played for the high school football team that Mr. Ford used to coach. Bryan Young, the former player, pointed a sawed-off shotgun at a taxi driver and robbed him and later pleaded guilty to armed robbery. Mr. Ford testified that Mr. Young had been one of his most promising players and that he had never missed a practice. “It hurts me very much to see him where he is today,” he told Mr. Justice Paul Robertson. “I sort of have a soft spot in my heart for him.”
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