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Odds long Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will win appeal, legal experts say

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford talks to reporters on the land at the public park behind his house where he confronted Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale because, Mr. Ford claims, was taking photos over his wooden fence, Toronto May 03, 2012.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Now that the arguments have been made, how likely is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to win his appeal of his conflict of interest conviction?

Not very, say legal experts.

Mr. Ford, who in November was found guilty of violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and ordered removed from office, was in Ontario Divisional Court Monday. The three-judge panel reserved its decision.

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Alan Lenczner, the Mayor's lawyer, told the court that City Council didn't have the authority to ask Mr. Ford to repay $3,150 he collected for his football foundation. Mr. Lenczner also argued it was a mere error in judgment when the Mayor voted on the matter at a council meeting last year.

But Leo Longo, a municipal law expert at Aird and Berlis, said he would be surprised if the three judges found the arguments persuasive.

When asked what the Mayor's odds of winning the appeal were, Mr. Longo said, "It's certainly a lot less than 50/50."

Mr. Longo said he doesn't believe the evidence is there to support the claim the Mayor made an error in judgment. He said the trial judge, Mr. Justice Charles Hackland, clearly stated Mr. Ford was "wilfully blind," a fact that is likely to be respected by the appeal judges.

Mr. Longo said Mr. Lenczner's argument that City Council didn't have the authority to direct Mr. Ford to pay back the money was a stronger point, but not strong enough.

"I still don't think that the court will be persuaded that the city was beyond its jurisdiction to direct that the money be returned," he said.

Mr. Longo was not alone in believing Mr. Ford will lose the appeal.

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Steven Skurka, a criminal defence lawyer, called both the point about the error in judgment, and another point about the amount of money being insignificant, "losing arguments."

He said those points were already addressed in detail by Justice Hackland.

"An appeal is not a new hearing," he said, adding it's a time to point out errors in law.

John Mascarin, who also works in municipal law at Aird and Berlis, said he believes Justice Hackland's decision was correct in law and Mr. Ford has a "very slim chance of success" on appeal.

"I really do think the Divisional Court should come back and should uphold Justice Hackland's decision," he said. "And I don't think they're going to start looking at a whole bunch of other things, i.e. the upheaval that it's going to cause, the cost of a by-election," he said.

What happens if Mr. Ford's appeal is unsuccessful, of course, remains to be seen.

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Eugene Meehan, an Ottawa lawyer, has said it could be possible for the case to reach the Supreme Court of Canada.

Mr. Longo, however, said Section 11 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act clearly states the Divisional Court's decision will be final.

Mr. Mascarin said he would be surprised if the case reaches the country's highest court.

"I always thought final meant final," he said.

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