Ave atque vale
Eddie Greenspan, QC died in his sleep last week at his winter pad in Arizona. He was only 70, although he seemed older to me. Canada's most celebrated criminal lawyer, he had made his name very young, and kept it until the end. I didn't know him well, and, indeed, on the last occasion I saw him (or, to be more precise, he saw me), in the lobby of the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, he cut me dead. (I was talking with someone, and didn't actually notice, but so it was reported to me afterwards.) The point of our dispute was the trial in 2007 of my old boss and Greenspan's sometime client Conrad Black, who was charged by the United States Government with ...well, no one could really explain exactly what he was supposedly guilty of, but he ended up going to jail for it.
How did a Queen's Counsel from Toronto wind up in a criminal trial in Chicago? Well, Lord Black's defense was supposed to be handled by DC bigshot Brendan Sullivan. When Conrad was eventually charged, Mr Sullivan said that, to proceed with the case, he'd need an extra $25 million - extra, that is, to the millions he'd already received. A little strapped for cash, due to US prosecutors freezing and seizing everything in sight, Conrad turned to his old friend Eddie. Greenspan got on the plane to O'Hare sans barristerial gown, wing collar and court coat, and prepared to make his US debut in a lounge suit with a favorite Churchill quotation tucked in the pocket: "My whole life has been a preparation for this hour and this trial." Which Winston said upon becoming Prime Minister. Trial-wise, Churchill was better prepared than Greenspan.
He had a local sidekick - another Eddie, Genson of that ilk, whose other client that season was the popular vocal artiste R Kelly. Mr Kelly had gotten into a spot of bother over a video showing him urinating on an underage girl, which has at least the merit of being comprehensible to a jury: Unlike Lord Black, R Kelly was eventually acquitted on all counts. Mr Genson powered through the courthouse on a motorized wheelchair and had a folksy manner, which wore very quickly, not least on his client - and, one vaguely suspected, his co-counsel. Genson's stylistic opposite, Greenspan was dry, measured, and brought with him an extensive range of Canadian courtroom locutions - "I put it to you that...", as he would sooner or later put it to all the government's witnesses. Within a couple of days, the American lawyers had all adopted Greenspan's stylistic tics, as the amused lady judge eventually noted.
He was in those early days very effective, demolishing key prosecution witnesses, starting with the company's chief accountant, an Elmer Fudd figure who seemed entirely unaware that Greenspan was doing a Bugs Bunny and slicing him up limb by limb. As I liked his performance, he enjoyed my trial coverage. When former Illinois governor Jim Thompson and the two other "independent" directors all claimed merely to have "skimmed" the company reports before signing them, Greenspan borrowed my line that Big Jim & Co had been world champions at "synchronized skimming".
But long trials require energy, and what little Black's team had (compared to the young, lean sharks at the US Atttorney's table) soon evaporated. During Eddie Genson's opening address to the jury, Eddie Greenspan, seated alongside, dozed off three times. They sat directly facing the jury and, as the trial went on, afternoon sessions would usually find one or both of them snoozing away with eyes closed. The contrast with the energetic youth hungry to make their reputations on the government's side was very telling. In his subsequent book on the case, A Matter Of Principle, Conrad wrote:
I took to calling Greenspan & Genson "the dream team". Which is why he didn't want to speak to me in the King Edward that day. As my comrade on the press benches, Jennifer Wells of The Toronto Star, wrote:
A Clydesdale? I prefer to think of it, micturition-wise, as leaving them as sodden as R Kelly's schoolgirl. But nothing I said about him was as devastating as one unexpected intervention by a fellow nominally on his side. Greenspan had diabetes, which required careful management by his daughter Juliana and his genial co-counsel Jane Kelly (now an Ontario judge) or he simply wound down like a clock. It happened on the first day of his cross-examination of the prosecution's key witness, the turncoat rodent David Radler. Greenspan was portentous and ponderous, and a terrible combination of bullying and ineffectiveness. Sorely trying the jury's patience, he labored the same points again and again and again. After the umpteenth recitation of his standard refrain "And that was a lie?", a voice went up: "Objection! Asked and answered." It was Ron Safer, counsel for the most junior defendant, Mark Kipnis, a minor functionary in the Chicago Sun-Times operation.
"Sustained," said the judge. Greenspan seemed to crumple. Canada's most famous lawyer had just been humiliated before an American court by the lowliest figure on his own team. He looked around the room - at judge, jury, lawyers, defendants - and found no friends, no sympathy.
In fairness to Greenspan, Genson's performance was far more damaging to Black's defense. But then again, Genson was the principal US lawyer on Conrad's team for no other reason than that, as a young clerk, Greenspan's daughter had once worked for Genson's firm.
At his best, Eddie Greenspan was not just a formidable lawyer but a rather droll writer. Years afterwards, his response to Conrad's characterization of him was drily amusing:
Then again, the client went to jail, the lawyer moved on to the next case. At the end of his account, Conrad preserves for posterity the ghastly collegiality of courthouse showbiz, as the trial concludes in an orgy of leaden banter and back-slapping that would have any discriminating person lurching for the sick bag. First, defense counsel Pat Tuite:
Greenspan, on the other hand, seemed glad to be heading for the airport.
I thought there was too much of the water buffalo in Chicago, and would have liked to have seen Eddie Greenspan in his prime and on his own turf, a nimble cougar in a Court of Queen's Bench somewhere in BC or New Brunswick. I happen to disagree with him on the death penalty, but in the Eighties no one campaigned more effectively against it than he did, and the fact that even hardcore hang-'em-and-flog-'em Tories have no desire to revisit the issue is largely down to him.
He was also a man of principle, in a way that too few lawyers are. When the Canadian Islamic Congress law students launched their three "human rights" complaints against me and Maclean's, Greenspan denounced them as a disgrace to his alma mater:
I was grateful to Greenspan for that column six years ago, and I remain grateful to him today. Those three Osgoode Hall embarrassments are all now successful attorneys, while Eddie Greenspan is gone. And I wonder, next time free speech needs defending, how many of the current generation of lawyers will stand on principle even for someone they're "no fan of".
Rest in peace.
from Ave atque vale, December 30, 2014
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