Skip to content

There have been an outpouring of tributes to Edward Greenspan since his passing on December 24, 2014. There is not much that can be added, so it is Mr. Greenspan’s own inimitable voice that seems most worth recalling. What follows are extracts from an interview with Mr. Greenspan in the Spring 2009 edition of The Advocates’ Journal. The interviewer is Journal editor Stephen Grant.

EG: Well, I remember a time when my daughter was at university in Washington. We wanted to go to a restaurant. One of the best restaurants in town was an Italian restaurant called I Ricci. I called in the afternoon to see if we could get a reservation that night, not realizing it was also the most popular restaurant in town. They said they did not have a reservation but for me, they would welcome me at any time – 7:30. So I show up at the restaurant at 7:30, and it takes them one minute to understand I’m not Alan Greenspan. I just gave the name Greenspan.
SG: Did they still honour the reservation?
EG: They gave me the best table. They didn’t know what to do with me.
SG: It also goes on to say that you’re not to be confused with Edward Greenspon, editor in chief of the Globe and Mail.
EG: We’re friends. I call him ‘O,’ he calls me ‘A,’ and we’ve been friends for a very long time. He used to get calls late at night to give legal advice on impaired driving cases…

EG: From that day on, [at 13, after reading a biography of Clarence Darrow] that’s what I wanted to do, and I never went through any phase of wanting to be a fireman.
SG: Architect, doctor…
EG: Whatever. Nothing, nothing. When I went to law school, I was so focused on criminal law that I did not give the other courses half a chance.
SG: Should you have?
EG: Oh, in retrospect…I spent very little time in reals estate, for instance, thinking if I ever buy a house, I’ll hire one of my classmates as a real estate lawyer. Then I got involved in the largest real estate fraud in the history of Canada, with Leonard Rosenberg, and I had to know a lot of real estate and a lot of municipal law. It went on and on. And I didn’t spend much time learning trusts.
SG: Or corporate law for corporate fraud cases?
EG: My whole life is every subject that I did not pay a lot of attention to in law school.
SG: Have you found your career to be anything but fulfilling?
EG: The one thing that I learned fairly quickly was that every lawyer who wrote a book – by then I had become a lawyer and had read every biography, every autobiography – lied. Clarence Darrow gets up and gives a fantastic jury address or a final summation, as he does in Leopold and Loeb. What you realize, and what they don’t tell you, is that it requires hundreds of hours to prepare it. They don’t talk about preparation. They don’t talk about what goes into making a top-notch lawyer. So you get all this thrilling stuff and think, God – this is fantastic. But then what you learn is that it’s very, very hard work, and you’re down at the office all the time, preparing.
SG: But was it rewarding?
EG: It has been, every day that I have practised. Every day. Even when you’re at the lows – there are highs in the practice of law and there are lows – I’m sure I never said to myself once ‘I wish I had picked a different field’ or ‘I wish I had picked a different lifestyle or a different life…’

SG: Whether it’s Black or another case, were there any cases in your career that were particularly disappointing to you?
EG: I think the most disappointing was one called Gauthier. Gauthier was a man charged with second-degree murder. A drunk friend of his followed him into his house, up into his bedroom, and was mad as hell at him. He was out of control and was going to kill him – throw him out the window of the bedroom on the third floor and kill him. And Gauthier shot him. I thought it was a pretty clear case of self-defence. The trial was conducted, the jury went out and in three hours came back. We were sitting in the judge’s chamber. The judge congratulated me, the Crown congratulated me, the police officers congratulated me, the press congratulated me, and we went in and the jury said he was guilty of murder. I mean, it was shocking. The only people in that courtroom that thought there was a crime worthy of punishment were the 12 jurors. The problem with it was that it was a wonderful judge and it was a wonderfully run trial, and there were no grounds of appeal. So Marc Rosenberg and my brother took the appeal to the Court of Appeal, and I told my brother that if he didn’t win, he would never see his nieces, my children, again; and I told Marc not to bother to come back to the office if he lost. They lost. We applied for leave to the Supreme Court of Canada and didn’t get leave because it was perfectly run trial.
SG: It’s a very bitter pill when something goes so wrong, no?
EG: Thank God it’s rare…

SG: One of the other lawyers I interviewed told me that he had a kind of work hard/play hard philosophy. I was thinking that maybe yours is just a work hard philosophy, with no play at all. Is that a fair statement?
EG: It would not be. I don’t play hard.
SG: Do you play at all?
EG: Well, I’m not sure. I don’t drink, I don’t golf, I don’t go to professional sports events. I may take a week and go with Suzy to some destination.
SG: Sure. But when you’re there, you have a transcript with you, right?
EG: Yeah, I’ve always got law with me. I mean, I took my Criminal Code with me on my honeymoon and read half of it. And that unfortunately is true…

SG: Did the pursuit of excellence come naturally to you, or, rather, as you grew enamoured of the law did you know you really wanted to be the best?
EG: I wanted to be the best, so every cross-examination – whether it was in the Provincial Court in Kenora or Dryden or the Superior Court of Ontario in Toronto – every cross-examination for me was the most important cross-examination.
SG: I’m a baseball fan, and I remember Ted Williams said that when he walked down the street, he wanted people to say, ‘There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.’ Is that what you wanted: ‘There goes the greatest defence counsel that ever lived’?
EG: I’m not so sure I should share that secret with you, but I know the Ted Williams story, and I also know that’s what I wanted.
SG: Did you draw that analogy?
EG: I wanted to become good enough that people would say to themselves, ‘I’ve got a criminal problem. Get Greenspan…’

SG: Going back to the drive for success, apart from having certain native skills of intuition, people reading, perception, and that kind of thing, is there something other than sheer, hard, dogged work that you would say is important for your development as an advocate?
EG: I think every aspect of your life is important in terms of developing you into an advocate – reading, knowledge, expansion of your mind. One of the things I like about law is that in almost every trial, something new comes up that you’ve never studied before. I know almost nothing about guns. Still, I won a case against the best gun expert in Canada by reading and absorbing all the ballistic books that I’ve got. The guy got off the stand and told me, ‘That’s the best cross-examination I’ve ever undergone,’ and I didn’t know what the hell I’d asked him. I had read all these books and had written out my questions. I asked him, ‘What do you think is the best thing I got out of you?’ He told me, I wrote it down, I went to the jury. Every day there’s something different…

SG: What characteristics would define your ideal judge?
EG: In no particular order: a clear even-handedness, where at any point in the trial the judge will not favour or disfavour a witness and, either way, will not interfere with trial counsel’s examination in-chief or cross-examination and will moderate the anger that may develop between counsel in a courtroom; a good disposition; very bright – of which there are many judges.
SG: Do you think some have an innate sense of fairness?
EG: If you can see that in a judge, you’re confident that no matter what happens in the case, you’ve had a fair shot.
SG: Are there some judges who you see don’t have that innate sense of fairness?
EG: Unfortunately there are some judges who don’t have it, but they might make it up in other areas. There are very few judges who, looking at the entire package, would make me unhappy spending a lot of time in a particular case. Very few. It’s quite amazing when you look at the vast array of judges, how few there are where you say, ‘Whew, I don’t want him or her.’
SG: My sense of our current judiciary is they are all earnest men and women who strive hard to get the right result in a fair way.
EG: I think that’s true of almost all of them…

SG: Your daughter is practicing law with you now, right?
EG: Yes. It’s phenomenal.
SG: I have a daughter in law school; do you find it fulfilling that your daughter chose law?
EG: It’s the best. It’s the very best. I remember the first time my daughter challenged me, and for a moment I was ready to say to her, ‘Wait a minute.’
SG: ‘Go to your room’?
EG: ‘Wait a minute.’ And she was right. It’s just great having your child with you.
SG: Do you feel it’s the carrying on of a legacy or tradition?
EG: It’s carrying on a tradition. And I didn’t know that my daughter was interested in criminal law. I had no idea. Although I did know, when she was a young girl and Suzy went with her to Montreal on a plane, the police brought somebody who was under arrest on the plane. They had a coat over his arms, and he clearly had handcuffs on. My daughter was crying when she saw this, and Suzy looked at her and said, ‘Don’t worry, the police have him and he has handcuffs on.’ My daughter said, ‘I’m crying because he has handcuffs on.’ I should have known right then and there that she was a natural-born criminal lawyer…

SG: As we sit here, you seem at 64 years old pretty content.
EG: I am content. I’m very content. I just don’t want it to end.