Blame the Lawyers
A couple of weeks ago, Michael Schachter and Ronald Safer (lawyers for Atkinson and Kipnis respectively), in the course of their opening statements, disparaged two lawyers associated with the Toronto firm Torys: Darren Sukonick (still there) and Beth DeMerchant (resigned). Torys already paid $30 million to Hollinger International to settle allegations that they failed to act in the firm’s best interest when representing three companies controlled by Lord Black during the now infamous CanWest sale. No doubt playing to the galleries, Mr. Schachter was quoted as saying that Sukonick, who struck a deal with U.S. attorneys to testify via videotape, “will not come and look this jury in the eye.” Mr. Safer, playing essentially the same hand, asked the jury rhetorically, “Beth DeMerchant makes mistakes but Mark Kipnis is charged?” This week, Sukonick’s and DeMerchant’s testimony for the prosecution, as well as the defence’s cross-examination—all 12 hours’ worth—will be played for the jury.
One of the more dramatic sidebars to this case is the price that Torys has paid as a result of its involvement with Black and Hollinger. A former managing partner at one of Toronto’s largest firms recently told me, “There’s no question that this case has been hugely distracting for Torys. It’s demoralizing to see stories like these. It affects the perception of the profession as a whole.” He pointed out that the $30-million payout to Hollinger shareholders might, depending on the evidence presented at trial, “only be the beginning.”
As to the degree that the defence will seek to disparage Black’s former counsel on cross-examination, he offered this caveat: “No doubt part of Black’s defence will be to point a finger at his corporate lawyers and say ‘They advised me that all this stuff was OK.’ But the fact remains that corporate lawyers don’t make decisions—we advise. And as for lawyers involved in these deals actually testifying, it’s all covered by solicitor client confidentiality and is a very delicate matter as to what can and cannot be said.”