The memory of Edward Greenspan, the prominent criminal defence lawyer who died Dec. 24, was invoked Thursday in a courtroom at Toronto's Osgoode Hall, where securities lawyer Joe Groia is fighting a one-month suspension from the Law Society of Upper Canada for "incivility" at the Bre-X Minerals Ltd. trial more than a dozen years ago.
Canada's legal community is still reeling from the sudden death of Mr. Greenspan of heart failure at age 70. A legal giant whose high-profile clients included Conrad Black, Garth Drabinsky and Robert Latimer, he had repeatedly expressed support for Mr. Groia, arguing that his prosecution by the Law Society would cause a "chill" among defence lawyers who might think twice before making zealous arguments for fear of being second-guessed by the Law Society.
That's an argument that Mr. Groia's lawyer, Earl Cherniak – a long-time friend of Mr. Greenspan -- was making Thursday before a three-judge panel of the Ontario Divisional court when he quoted from a speech given at Mr. Greenspan's funeral by his daughter Julianna, also a criminal lawyer at the same firm.
She was herself quoting from a speech her father frequently gave about the role of defence counsel in defending legal rights.
"If you are a criminal lawyer, you stand between the abuse of governmental power and the individual. If you are a criminal lawyer, you stand between the abuse of judicial power and the individual. If you are a criminal lawyer, you are helping to mould the rights of individuals for generations to come," Mr. Cherniak read. " … By protecting defendants, whether guilty or innocent, from the abuse of power by the state, the criminal lawyer protects us all."
Mr. Cherniak also told the courtroom that if defence lawyers are afraid to vigorously challenge prosecutors, than more false convictions could result.
Mr. Groia was found by two Law Society panels to have broken his profession's rules on civility for levelling repeated "personal attacks" at prosecutors during the acrimonious trial of former Bre-X geologist John Felderhof.
Mr. Felderhof was acquitted on insider trading and other charges in connection with the Bre-X fraud, which cost investors $6-billion in the 1990s when it emerged that Indonesian gold-drilling results had been faked.
Mr. Groia argues that since trial judge in the case never complained about his behaviour, the Law Society should not have intervened. Doing so, he argues, interferes with judicial independence. He has also argued that prosecutors for the Ontario Securities Commission made inappropriate comments in court.