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Legendary Toronto lawyer Austin Cooper dies at age 84

Austin Cooper, a criminal lawyer considered the dean of the Toronto defence bar in a career that spanned 60 years, has died of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 84.

William Trudell, chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, described Mr. Cooper as one of 10 lawyers who were almost legends in Canada's legal community. "It's like a magnificent and sacred tree collapsed in the forest," he said. "He stood above the system in many ways."

The son of a clothing merchant, Mr. Cooper graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1953. He was the first lawyer to conduct a murder trial under Ontario's legal aid plan, which began in the 1960s. "If only the rich can get representation, the system is rotten to the core," he said.

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His clients included Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones guitarist, who admitted to possessing heroin in 1978, and was ordered to play a benefit concert for the blind. He also represented nurse Susan Nelles, charged in the killings of four babies at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. Her case was discharged after a preliminary hearing in 1982. Another client was Rick Shank, a police constable acquitted of manslaughter in the shooting death of a drug dealer. Mr. Cooper was counsel for the commission of inquiry into the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin, and was a lifetime bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He was also considered a mentor to generations of young lawyers.

He once said he wanted to work until his 90s. He stopped going to court a couple of years ago because he wanted to leave while his forensic skills were at their highest, Mark Sandler, his law partner, said. But he continued working until the spring.

He leaves three sons: Doug, a novelist; Peter, a firefighter; and Paul, a businessman. He also leaves his partner of 17 years, Catherine Williams.

Editor's note: Osgoode Hall became part of York University after Austin Cooper graduated. This article has been corrected.

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