Conrad's favourite lawyer (June 28, 2007)

Fast Eddie’s bullying ‘brilliance’

I don’t pretend to know whether a jury of his lessers will find our own British peer, the peerless Conrad Black, guilty of any or all of the many and various complicated crimes with which he is charged. I hope they do, not so much because I believe the evidence supports the verdict (like others who’ve followed his Chicago trial, I vacillate on the question of whether Conrad is criminal or merely crass), but because, if Black is found guilty, we will be spared yet another torrent of breathless stories about the “the brilliant cross-examiner with the deadly mouth” who is “one of the most famous criminal defence lawyers in Canada.”

Spare me.

OK, OK. Edward Greenspan, Conrad’s longtime buddy and chief courtroom blusterer, is definitely famous. Partly for his fascinating but long-ago CBC series, The Scales of Justice. But mostly for the litany of high-profile clients he’s defended. Wife murderers Helmuth Buxbaum and Peter Demeter, entertainment mogul Garth Drabinsky, German wheeler-dealer and former Mulroney confidant Karlheinz Schreiber and, of course, our own former premier and accused-but-acquitted serial sexual assaulter Gerald Regan.

But the reality is that Greenspan has not always been successful, even in those famous cases. Demeter and Buxbaum were both convicted, and Karlheinz Schreiber is currently awaiting extradition to Germany.


I’ve only watched Greenspan up close once — during Regan’s 1998 trial on eight sex-related charges, including rape and attempted rape — and I came away with mixed feelings.

There is no question Greenspan is an indefatigable advocate, single-mindedly dedicated to his clients.

But he crosses lines.

During the early stages of the Regan investigation, for example, Greenspan falsely claimed publicly that one of Regan’s accusers — a 14-year-old girl who, in the arcane words of the old law under which he’d been charged, was “of previously chaste character” — “was known and seen to have been pregnant with an illegitimate child” before the alleged assault. Despite Greenspan’s later best efforts in court, the evidence showed the pregnancy occurred years after the assault. But it didn’t matter. The damage had been done. Which appears to have been the point.

Greenspan’s much touted brilliance in cross examination, in fact, often seemed to me to be little more than beside-the-point bullying. When the same now-middle-aged woman testified Regan had raped her in a gravel pit in 1956, Greenspan used the fact she couldn’t find the gravel pit — 43 years later —to relentlessly discredit all her allegations. (The jury never heard that, after her testimony, other people called police and prosecutors to point out the location of the pit.)

Greenspan’s attack on another complainant — a former Liberal secretary who claimed Regan tried to rape her in 1969 — was even more beside the point. Greenspan had discovered that, 30 years before, she had falsified a school document so she could enter Grade 10 with her friends instead of spending another year in junior high. He badgered her mercilessly. If she’d lied about that, Greenspan harangued, she’d lie about anything.

Greenspan, of course, won the Regan case.

But I was curious to see how well this blustering, take-no-prisoners style would play when the witness in front of him was not an otherwise unsophisticated woman trying to recall traumatic events from decades before but a savvy publishing executive who’d confessed to having been part of the very crime for which his client was also accused.

Soon after Greenspan’s cross-examination of David Radler began, Stephen Foley, covering the trial for Britain’s Independent newspaper, concluded “the tide [of jury sympathy] turned [against Black] after a shambolic start to the cross-examination of Mr. Radler by… Greenspan, whose nickname, ‘Fast Eddie,’ never appeared more inappropriate.” Ouch.

Worse, others doubted Greenspan’s strategy of basing Black’s defence on arguing Radler was not only a “serial liar” but also the only criminal involved.

“Which begs the question,” wrote the Toronto Star’s David Olive: “Why did Black see fit to confide in, rely upon as his chief business strategist and lavishly praise David Radler during the entirety of their 34-year business and social relationship?… Was it that Black was so heartily satisfied with Radler’s role in building Black’s own fortune over the decades that he couldn’t imagine a more conducive corporate soulmate?”

Given that the judge this week offered jurors what’s known as the “ostrich instruction” — also used in the Enron and WorldCom fraud cases — allowing them to convict if they believe Black willfully blinded himself to the fact a crime was being committed, that may turn out to have been a strategic error of gargantuan proportions.

Hold your breath.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column, “Kimber’s Nova Scotia,” appears in the Sunday Daily News.

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