Over the past few difficult months, a low-profile lawyer with salt-and-pepper hair has often been at the side of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
Part trusted adviser and spokesman, Dennis Morris was with Mr. Ford after his stunning crack cocaine admission and when the mayor “hit bottom” after hearing his long-time friend Finance Minister Jim Flaherty choke up when asked about his troubles.
Mr. Ford has called the sole practitioner – whose Hotmail e-mail address sparked a parody Twitter account – the best criminal lawyer in Canada. Mr. Morris became a friend of the Ford family 25 years ago while he represented the mayor’s siblings.
How did the mayor get himself into so much trouble? What do you think was happening with him that led to the drug use and binge drinking?
Basically, a substance abuse problem which he did not acknowledge appropriately until some time in November. People with substance abuse problems, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, oftentimes are in denial, oftentimes don’t want to admit, oftentimes lie. So basically that’s what held the mayor back at that point in time over quite a number of months in 2013.
Why do you think the mayor didn’t step aside temporarily after admitting to using crack cocaine?
What reason is there for him to step aside? I’m not really sure because I don’t think there’s any precedent that anybody must step aside. What if he said, “I overindulged in alcohol?” Is it because alcohol’s legal, crack cocaine isn’t? I don’t really know. And I think he made an excellent decision not to step aside because, as you see, he’s rehabilitating himself as of the past [several] weeks.
The mayor’s said he’s has given up alcohol and is going to the gym every day. Do you also think he needs some sort of a more formal rehabilitation program?
Without going into any details, I think he’s involved in something that is private and does not necessitate his going inside a premise for three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, whatever the normal time might be. It’s one thing to overuse something; it’s another thing to be an addict.
In addition to being the mayor’s lawyer, you’re also a close adviser. How would you characterize your relationship with him?
As you’ve indicated, I’m his lawyer and I guess in times of turmoil he, amongst others, asks me for my advice and I’m sure I’m not the only one he speaks to about advising him on different aspects. I guess at the end of the day he makes his own decision as to what he wishes to do.
Does he follow your advice?
He does what he thinks is appropriate. And, so far, what he’s done has turned out to be appropriate.
Given what you’ve learned over the past few months, has your opinion of Mr. Ford changed? Did you ever consider advising him to get a new lawyer?
No, no. My opinion of him has tremendously strengthened because I see the improvement in his physical and mental health. When Flaherty was almost in tears, that was, in my eyes, a defining moment for him. And I think it’s turned out to be that. People who have certain problems have to reach a low. They have to go down as far as they can or reach a nadir. Hit bottom, I think, is sometimes the term used. And then once they realize they’ve hit bottom, then they can climb back up. And I think denial and sometimes lying means you haven’t hit bottom and I think the mayor acknowledged that he needed to redefine himself for himself, for his family, for the electorate.
Mayor Ford is planning to run for re-election. What do you think his chances are?
I think they’re excellent. I think if you asked me that a few months ago, I’d think otherwise because people aren’t happy when an individual with substance abuse difficulties doesn’t acknowledge and do something about them. It’s a type of illness and if you’re able to overcome it and take steps to overcome it, I think people will be forgiving.
This interview has been edited and condensed.