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Politics 'You’ll never come across a better-prepared lawyer': A look at Mike Duffy's high-profile defender

Suspended senator Mike Duffy leaves the courthouse with his lawyer Donald Bayne in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It was only Day 2 of the Duffy trial, and defence lawyer Donald Bayne felt he needed to apologize for drilling deep into the intricate rules of Senate administration.

"While it is taking some time to go through these and establish the rules, it is nothing compared to the months [it took] to learn them initially. So I apologize to a very distinguished witness and the court and everybody here, but it does take time," he told Judge Charles Vaillancourt and a packed Ottawa courtroom.

Mr. Bayne, however, didn't need to offer any apologies to Mike Duffy after the first week of the suspended senator's trial on 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. By most accounts, Mr. Duffy did well in the sphere of public relations, where he is fighting for his reputation, and in the court, where he is trying to prove his innocence. Through it all, Mr. Bayne did almost all of the talking, while shadowing his chatty client to make sure he wasn't speaking to the media.

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Born in a military family in Manitoba in 1945, Mr. Bayne grew up across Canada and in the United States, where he perfected his skills as a quarterback. A law student at Queen's University, he was a star football player and won MVP honours at the 1968 Vanier Cup after throwing three touchdown passes.

In his Ottawa office these days, Mr. Bayne has a picture of Louis Riel, a victim of an injustice in his view, but also a symbol of what he calls his desire to "defend the unpopular."

With his high profile among defence lawyers in Ottawa, Mr. Bayne could be making more money representing clients accused of offences such as drinking and driving, but what drives him at this point in his career is trying to win large, high-profile and complicated cases. He is still involved in the matter of Hassan Diab, a sociology professor who was recently extradited – despite Mr. Bayne's efforts – to France to face trial in relation to the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue.

At the Maher Arar inquiry, he represented individual Mounties who had to overcome their traditional dislike for defence counsel when it came time to select their advocate.

"You'll never come across a better-prepared lawyer," said Mark Ertle, a partner at Bayne Sellar Boxall. "He's getting ready until 9:59 for a case that starts at 10."

Mr. Bayne went on the offence as Mr. Duffy's trial got under way on Tuesday. In his opening remarks, he unveiled a hint of his strategy as he revealed that the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had told RCMP investigators that Mr. Duffy was likely following Senate rules by claiming his controversial living expenses. Mr. Bayne quickly took over the trial with a methodical – at times excruciating – cross-examination of the Crown's first witness, former Senate law clerk Mark Audcent.

Crown attorney Mark Holmes had taken only about an hour on Wednesday to quiz Mr. Audcent on the rules that govern a senator's residency requirements. He started to express his exasperation after Mr. Bayne had spent a third day cross-examining the witness. With about 50 witnesses on the Crown's list, it is unclear whether the 41 days allotted to the case will be enough.

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"Unless the point of this is to evaluate Mr. Audcent's reading abilities, I fail to see the importance of this," Mr. Holmes said about Mr. Bayne's heavy reliance on Senate documents on Friday.

Judge Vaillancourt expressed for the first time a desire to keep a tighter check on the pacing of the trial, stating he wanted to ensure that Mr. Bayne lived up to his promise to finish with the witness by Friday. A short while later, he told Mr. Bayne to stop focusing on a point about the laxity of the Senate's contracting rules.

"It's already been beaten to death," Judge Vaillancourt said.

Mr. Bayne speeded up his work, but cautioned that he won't stop his efforts to showcase the "extraordinarily broad administrative discretion" offered to Mr. Duffy and all of his colleagues in terms of living expenses, travel claims and contracting.

"The obligation is going to be put on me by the end of the trial to say that the Senate rules either prohibit something or permit something," he said, offering his overall road map to the trial.

Whereas Mr. Holmes has promised a just-the-facts approach to his case, Mr. Bayne offers a more colourful variation in court. During his opening remarks, he dropped a binder containing hundreds of e-mails with a large "thump" on his table, to emphasize the number of e-mails among Conservative officials that he analyzed in preparing for the trial.

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Mr. Bayne is convinced that the RCMP botched its investigation in this case, and that Mr. Duffy was unfairly "singled out" as part of a politically motivated campaign by government officials to quiet down his client.

At the start of the trial, Mr. Bayne took obvious pleasure as he handed Judge Vaillancourt a compendium of Senate rules.

"It's not a book of common sense," he said, "but it is the book that governs the Senate."

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