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Photo illustration by Marchelle Faucher for The Globe and Mail

With three high-profile courtroom defeats behind him and a skeptical legal rumour mill in full churn, the old lion of Toronto's criminal bar - Edward Greenspan - heatedly denies being in the winter of his legendary career.

"Tired and weary?" the 65-year-old Mr. Greenspan says, leaning forward on his spotless office desk. "Who's saying I'm tired and weary? I'm still driven. I'm a workaholic. I will never be tired and I will never be weary. I am as enthusiastic about the law today as I've always been.

"Tired and weary? That really pisses me off."

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While he has been anointed - and re-anointed - as the country's top criminal lawyer over the course of his 41-year career, Mr. Greenspan has never lacked detractors. Most recently they've been questioning his tactics and commitment after he suffered a string of losses in three mammoth legal cases: the trials of newspaper magnate Conrad Black; German businessman Karlheinz Schreiber; and Livent founder Garth Drabinsky. And their voices grew louder around three weeks ago, when Mr. Greenspan rushed to the defence of white-collar criminals in a speech to an audience of forensic accountants.

"A lot of second-guessing goes on about Eddie's decision-making," observed one veteran Toronto lawyer, who has worked both for the Crown and the defence. "I guess it comes with the territory when you are at the top of the criminal bar. But a winning strategy is to sometimes win. He hasn't even been able to spin the last few cases as wins. I wonder whether he is feeling the pressure."

If so, he is not showing it. With the methodical, aggressive self-confidence he has modelled in a thousand courtrooms and media interviews, Mr. Greenspan asserted, "I've done hundreds of cases before Black, during Black and after Black. If people want to start writing stories about the last two or three high-profile cases where people were convicted, go ahead and write them. I don't care. It's not going to stop me from winning my next case."

Lawyers are not like pro athletes whose end-of-season statistics reflect whether they had a good year or a rotten one, Mr. Greenspan said. "At the end of the year, there isn't a gum and a baseball card that says you won 20 games and you lost 15. Ninety-five per cent of my work is done in the shadows. It's not done for public consumption. So, you're only measuring five per cent of my work, anyway. If you were to look at it over a lifetime, I've done much better than worse."

What goes unsaid is that courtroom losses may be easier to bear when a portion of your clients fork over seven-figure cheques; fat retainers have allowed Mr. Greenspan's firm to acquire a venerable bank building at the corner of Jarvis Street and King Street.

During his recent speech postulating an unfair war on white-collar crime, Mr. Greenspan's long relationship with the rich and powerful was again in evidence.

So were his wiles. Notwithstanding the image that the eminently quotable Mr. Greenspan has crafted over the past four decades, his first line of defence for the speech was laden with irony: "I thought the entire meeting was off the record," he said. "I had no idea it wasn't until I started to walk out and saw the Globe reporter there. In fact, I went over and said, 'Why wasn't I told?'"

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In characteristic fashion, he pushed the envelope further. "All of this is like the witches of Salem. We hang some of them [white-collar criminals] and we move along. Hang 'em high, because that will reduce crime. Bullshit."

Mr. Greenspan recalled predicting 30 years ago that "business-bashing would be the next thing." Now, he said, Canada shows every sign of slavishly imitating the pugilistic prosecution style and crushing sentences that characterize the U.S. war on white-collar crime.

"I think the criticism in this country that we are too soft on business people is terribly misleading," Mr. Greenspan said. "We have a tendency to lock people up. Why don't we get genuinely serious about rehabilitation? Just because the United States operates like Speedy Gonzalez and doesn't give fairness and proper treatment, then by comparison, are we pushovers? I don't think this country is a pushover at all."

One thing both jurisdictions have in common is that a loss can look like a win. There is some perception among peers that he lost the Schreiber case last summer when the vocal, high-profile lobbyist was extradited to his native Germany to face tax-evasion charges.

While Mr. Greenspan's battle to prevent Mr. Schreiber from taking a one-way flight to Munich was roundly criticized as delay tactic, Mr. Greenspan argued that it was a carefully mapped-out triumph.

Yes, he conceded, his primary objective was to put the brakes on Mr. Schreiber's extradition. But he insisted that it was both legitimate and legally deft.

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"When Schreiber came to see me, there was a statute of limitations on all his charges that was five years," Mr. Greenspan said. "In order for him not to go back to Germany, the case had to be still going on in Canada for five years.

"But just because of that, it doesn't mean that I used whatever silly, stupid, reckless, foolish or dumb arguments I could possibly think of in order to keep him here for five years. I am entitled, on behalf of my client, to act zealously and make whatever legal argument is available to take. I have no duty to please the public."

Unfortunately for Mr. Schreiber, Germany called his bluff by rescinding the statute of limitations.

The victory? In the interim, several tax-fraud cases had been tried in Germany, resulting in legal precedents that favoured Mr. Schreiber. In addition, the amount of tax money that Mr. Schreiber allegedly failed to pay has been lowered substantially. Finally, a German prosecutor Mr. Greenspan regarded as biased against Mr. Schreiber has retired. "I consider Schreiber a very, very, very successful case," he said. "Schreiber is not a stupid man, and he is thrilled with how the Canadian system worked."

Mr. Greenspan is equally unwilling to concede that Lord Black's conviction and imprisonment constituted an abject defeat. To begin with, the prosecution slashed the amount of money that his client had purportedly pocketed from $90-million to $6-million in the months prior to the Chicago trial.

"The legal principle he was convicted of is now before the U.S. Supreme Court," Mr. Greenspan added. "Strategically, by being convicted only of the charges he was convicted on, it opened the door for what I regard as a very good appeal. I have every hope that Lord Black will be successful. Cases are not over until the final court decides."

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In retrospect, does Mr. Greenspan regret any of his tactics at the trial? "Anything I do in any case is a function of my relationship with my client," he said. "I don't just operate as an island unto myself - especially with Conrad Black. Does anybody really think that I told Black what to do?"

As much as critics ridicule his vast public profile, the legal establishment has repeatedly toasted him as an ambassador for legal principle and a marvel in the courtroom. Indeed, at a glittering dinner last month, he was presented with the prestigious Advocates' Society Medal.

"This is a deeply corrosive profession," said criminal lawyer Steven Skurka. "But the defence bar in Canada can match up with any criminal defence bar in the world - it is really that good - and Eddie Greenspan helped the bar reach that gold standard.

Mr. Skurka said that he witnessed Mr. Greenspan in action at the Black trial, "and I can assure you the fire is still raging in the furnace."

Mr. Greenspan said he had good reason to feel fiery. The Black trial taught him to detest the shortcomings of American justice - ranging from weak rules governing the disclosure of evidence to a sentencing system that sends elderly criminals, such as corporate bandit Bernie Madoff, to dozens of years behind bars.

"Of course he committed a terrible crime," he said. "But you're looking at somebody who is 70, and you're giving him 150 years? You might as well do what they do in China. Don't give him a trial, take him out, shoot him with a gun in the back of the head and then charge the family for the bullets.

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"You can't win down there," Mr. Greenspan said. "It's lose-lose under their rules of evidence."

Notwithstanding criticisms of his recent record, Mr. Greenspan said that he has every intention of dropping dead on the job - he hopes in the instant that follows a jury returning a "not guilty" verdict on a client.

"Few love a spokesman for the despised and the damned," Mr. Greenspan said. "The only time that people appreciate the importance of a criminal lawyer is when they are in trouble. To be an effective criminal defence counsel, a lawyer must be prepared to be demanding, outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous at times, a renegade, a maverick, and an isolated and lonely person."

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