Eddie Greenspan: On defence and the law

On defence and the law

“I had no childhood dreams of being a fireman, a policeman, teacher, doctor or candlestick maker or a corporate mogul. I was committed to being not only a lawyer, but a criminal lawyer.

The allure, the show business part of criminal law, the great trials, cross-examinations, jury addresses that I had read about in all the books when I was growing up, that made me want to become a criminal lawyer, like Perry Mason–none of them talked about the truth. And the truth is that for every great one hour of cross-examination, you have to spend about 50 hours preparing alone in your office, late at night, when no one else is around and you can think it through, take notes.

It's completely unglamorous and completely nothing more or less than very hard work. You've got to read everything, think about everything, figure out how you're going to approach a case and then get up and make it look like it's natural, like it just kind of came to you, which, of course, it doesn't if you care about what you're doing.

At the end of the day, people would give up their money to protect their liberty, but would not give up their liberty to protect their money.

I defend people, not crimes. And I defend innocent people, because until they're convicted, everybody is presumed to be innocent.

I don't believe that we, as lawyers, can make moral judgments about our clients. If they say they're innocent, they're innocent.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 11, says that every person charged has a right to counsel. It doesn't say every person except bank robbers, child molesters, murderers.

Most of the public charge, try, convict and sentence people before a person has been charged, tried, convicted and sentenced. They make up their minds fairly quickly. Oftentimes the media make up their mind fairly quickly.

Sometimes people don't want to be seen talking to me because it may look like I'm their lawyer.

I like being the underdog. The harder they press against my client, the more I get excited about defending them. I prefer to go into the game that way.

People who don't like me say I'm a showman; people who like me say I'm very good at what I do. I do not believe I am a showman, not for one second. I know this much, if some of the top American lawyers were to watch me in a courtroom, they'd fall asleep. But this is Canada–you cannot come on and pirouette around like you're Dustin Hoffman. It doesn't work.

I don't drink. I don't take drugs. I don't play golf. I eat, no question I eat, and if I'm in a high state of stress I eat a lot and I eat very quickly. I don't have any escape. If I'm in my car, I'm thinking about my cases–something is always in my brain.

The law is my vocation, it's my avocation. I don't have an escape, a hideaway place to relax. It's go-go when I'm at rest, and it's go-go when I'm at work.

I will never pop. I turned 60 last year and I love it more now than I did 10 years ago. It's where I intend to be my entire life. I will never retire. I'll never slow down.

My belief in the legal system and my belief in the rule of law is almost like a religion for me–in a tremendously secular way, but it's my home. It's where I'm most comfortable.

When one of my students says the one book they read that made them want to go to law school is Greenspan: The Case for the Defence, there's nothing nicer than that. Actually, there's one thing nicer than that: my granddaughter.

I'm married 37 years. I managed to have two daughters, who, although I may not have spent a great deal of time with when they were growing up, my oldest daughter Julianna practices law with me. She's a criminal lawyer, too, so I must have been doing something right. My younger daughter is an interior designer in New York City, but we talk all the time. I have a wonderful family.

What do I attribute that to? They're not very bright. I'm only kidding. My wife is a great lady. If I had been married to anyone else, they would not have tolerated me. I'm not around. I work on the weekends and I work all the time. That's the way it is and they've been great about it.

When Julianna was six years old, Suzy and Julianna were on a plane going to Montreal. Suzy reports to me that two police officers came onboard with a man who was handcuffed, and Julie got some tears in her eyes. Suzy said “Don't worry, don't be scared.” And Julie said, “I'm not scared. I feel sorry for the man.” We both said to each other, “She's got my genes.” She's a fine lawyer.

A lot of things make a good lawyer. You need a good heart, you have to be a very decent person yourself, you've got to believe in the rule of law and justice and want to fight for it. You have to have energy, intelligence, instinct, drive, and you've got to want to win.

I don't use lawyer's words. Lawyers actually get up in court and use the word “purport.” What the hell does that mean? I try to teach people that nobody in a bar or a beer hall uses the word, purport; you talk like an ordinary, regular person and people will like you a lot better. I never use the word vexatious in a courtroom. I don't even know how to spell it.

My second jury trial was in Sault Ste. Marie, and in my jury address I happened to use the word “surreptitiously.” The moment I used it, the jury had the look of the walleyed pike, and I knew I had made a huge mistake that you don't use words that regular folk don't use.

Whether I'm in the Old City Hall defending an impaired driving charge, or in Superior Court on a murder case or a complex trial, whatever I'm involved in and whatever I'm doing is the most important thing in my life, because it's most important thing in my client's life.

When people say to me you must try to avoid stress, that's a joke. My life even at my rest period has an enormous amount of stress, but I love it. I love the responsibility and I take it very seriously.

Sometimes I go to places where somebody is my client and they pretend they've never met or don't know me to avoid people thinking they are my client.

A lot of people call me and say, “I never thought I'd have to call you about this.” People don't necessarily like to make an admission that they even have a criminal problem.

The point at which I know I've won is when the foreperson comes out and says, “Not guilty.” I always believe they'll say it, and I want it to be that way in every case. But even Roger Clemens loses the odd baseball game. Not that I'm comparing myself to Roger Clemens, but I'd like to.

Any case can go anyway. Even if you think you're going to win, you still have to work very hard to make sure that you win. You can't get cocky.

Has anyone ever asked for my autograph? Embarrassingly, yes, and I always give it for free, not like some baseball players.

I've tried to instil in my children that being a decent person is very important no matter how badly somebody else may treat you. Being a forgiving person is important. Being a generous person is important.”

Timeline: Edward L. Greenspan
Born Feb. 28, 1944, in Niagara Falls, ON
Corporate and criminal lawyer; guest lecturer

1970: Called to the bar and joins Joe Pomerant's Toronto firm after graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1968.

1974: Comes to national prominence as the junior counsel in the murder trial of Peter Demeter, a wealthy Toronto developer.

1976: Splits from Pomerant with two colleagues to form their own law firm, Greenspan, Gold and Moldaver.

1986: Takes three months off to campaign against the reintroduction of the death penalty by the Mulroney Conservatives.

2004: Current client roster includes Garth Drabinsky, Conrad Black and former stockbroker Mark Valentine.