EDDIE GREENSPAN AND THE COUCHICHING GALA

The death in December of the celebrated Toronto lawyer, Eddie Greenspan, produced many fond and admiring recollections. Here is another one.

But first, a little background information. I am on the Board of the Couchiching Conference, a worthy group that encourages discussions of topics of public interest, especially at the annual August Conference beside, yes, Lake Couchiching. In fact, with Heather Keachie I co-chaired last year’s conference on Sport.

Running a public-interest group like this costs money, so we do lots of fund-raising. One of our most effective methods is the Couchiching Gala in Spring, where members of the public can get a fine meal, and choose to sit at a table hosted by one specific celebrity guest. At Archaeo Restaurant in April 2014 among many interesting possible table companions was Eddie Greenspan, widely recognised as Canada’s leading defence lawyer. Jane and I signed up for an evening of Eddie’s table talk, along with five fortunate others.

I had an extra role. As a Couch Board member, I was asked to “host” the table, in effect to direct the discussion, to make sure that Eddie held the floor, and to keep the table centred on one conversation. I was not a bad choice for the role. Leaving aside the question of natural assertiveness (some might use words like “rude”), I was a friend of Eddie’s. We had met way back in the 1970s, when I edited By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter, written by George Jonas and Barbara Amiel. The 1977 account of what was then the longest murder trial in Canadian history was a huge commercial success, won prizes for its authors, and was useful to my career as a trouble-making non-fiction editor.

Much more important, the Demeter trial brought the junior defence Counsel, Eddie Greenspan, into the limelight, until he eclipsed the famous defence lead, Joe Pomerant. It was clear to everyone around the headline-making trial that a legal star had just been born.

I met Eddie behind the scenes in those days, and was impressed by this comfortably-built man with a thick head of hair and a very direct look. I especially liked his natural style, which included the straightforward use of simple language. This is a gift not universally shared, as we were reminded when Eddie later took on the case of Conrad Black. Sadly, the verbose Conrad proved to be a poor loser when he went to jail, and his attack on the performance of his chosen counsel, Eddie Greenspan, prompted Eddie to write a wry defence in the newspaper, where he noted that it is not unknown for people in jail to blame their lawyers.

Because of our link, I once took the chance to see Eddie in action in court. It was not an especially important case, except to Gordon Allan, Eddie’s client, who had been accused of murder. I went along for Eddie’s summing up. He said, in effect : “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we’ve been here for many days, and we’ve heard many confusing suggestions about what happened on the day of this sad event. Let me try to explain to you what really happened….” And he went on, very simply, with no courtroom theatrics, no fancy oratory, just kindly explaining it all.

When he had finished, and we broke for lunch, it was obvious that Eddie’s client was going to be found not guilty. And he was.

I began our evening conversation by recalling that trial, and Eddie described the details well. Then we were off, ranging across his cases over the years, from Demeter to Black, and dealing with wider issues such as the wisdom of juries against the errors of judges, and the whole issue of his successful fight against capital punishment. It was all frank and witty, and such a constant source of information that I had to interrupt to allow him to snatch a bite to eat. At the end of the evening, Eddie slipped off into the night, after I had ushered him to the door, trying to express the deep gratitude of all of us at the table.

I saw him again in November, when once again Eddie was slipping away from another legal-book event. We hailed each other, I clapped his arm, but we did not have the chance to chat. The Couch Gala remains a vivid memory, however, of the unforgettable Eddie Greenspan.

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