In just a few days for top criminal lawyer Marie Henein, Jian Ghomeshi has gone from punchline to client.
“As criminal lawyers we represent people who have committed heinous acts. Acts of violence. Acts of depravity. Acts of cruelty. Or as Jian Ghomeshi likes to call it, foreplay,” Henein said at a gala on Oct. 29 to big laughs from the crowd of about 450 lawyers, including judges of both the provincial and superior court where his case might be heard if charges are laid.
But her latest client — under investigation by police for serious allegations of physical and sexual assault — is unlikely to mind given her reputation for winning.
Henein is the lawyer Ghomeshi needs, observers of the criminal justice system say.
Ruthless, smart, hardworking, an exceptional strategist and known for eviscerating cross-examinations, she is a go-to criminal lawyer in high-profile cases — and is high on the list of barristers whom lawyers themselves would call, if they got into trouble.
In 2010, she got all charges dropped against Michael Bryant, including criminal negligence causing death, after bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard died. In his book, the former attorney-general of Ontario heaped praise on the “finest barrister I ever met.”
She “seemed to channel Hannibal Lecter,” Bryant wrote in his 2012 book, 28 Seconds. “So able was she to find a person’s deepest frailties and exploit them.”
Other former clients include junior hockey coach David Frost, acquitted of sexually exploiting his players in 2008, and Gerald Regan, the former premier of Nova Scotia, acquitted of a string of historic sexual assaults.
Perhaps unexpectedly, another former client and ardent fan, is Jane Doe — the well-known activist and head of a coalition of groups focused on violence against women. Henein represented the Feminist Coalition pro bono in the Bedford case at the Supreme Court, which led to the high court striking down prostitution laws.
“She is a brilliant feminist and did outstanding work for our coalition,” Doe said Wednesday. And despite emotions running high in light of the shocking allegations by nine women against the fired CBC radio host “I do feel strongly that everyone is entitled to the fullest and best representation — and she’s the one.”
Henein will defend Ghomeshi alongside former Crown attorney Scott Hutchison and Danielle Robitaille, both partners at Henein Hutchison LLP.
Henein was previously a partner at famed criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan’s firm and served a term as co-chair of the Masters of Law program at her alma mater Osgoode Hall, and 14 years as an adjunct professor at the school.
In 2013, Henein was the recipient of the Laura Legge award, which recognizes female lawyers in Ontario who have demonstrated exemplary leadership. She was also the first woman to serve as president of the Advocate’s Society.
“Marie is well-respected by every participant in criminal justice system,” said lawyer Jonathan Rosenthal, who has known Henein for 20 years.
“She is a very smart woman. Personally, I certainly wouldn’t want to be cross-examined by her.”
He also noted her “ballsy” sense of humour — showcased by her Ghomeshi jokes while emceeing at the Criminal Lawyer’s Association gala last week.
“Will be completely appropriate,” she promised on Twitter before the gala where she noted that she and Eddie Greenspan have worked together for many years: “Some criminal. Some regulatory. Some light BDSM.”
Both jokes drew huge laughs from the crowd at the Ritz Carlton.
With Henein representing him, the case against Ghomeshi, if or when charges are laid, is far from a “slam-dunk,” observed one source in the legal community.
But since Ghomeshi has been “hung, drawn and quartered” in the media and on social media, he needed a good lawyer to make sure he has a chance at a fair trial.
“She is as good as it gets,” the source said. “It’s like ‘who you gonna call?’ She’s the Ghostbuster.”
Henein recently deleted her Twitter account, but not all of her online presence has been scrubbed. A Law Society of Upper Canada video from 1998 shows Henein explaining defence strategies around getting a sexual assault complainant’s sexual history to be introduced at trial.
Suggesting one final tactic she said: “Sometimes you bring the application, especially in front of a judge-alone trial to introduce all this otherwise inadmissible evidence and if it’s excluded, well, oh, well, the judge has heard it.”
After slightly shocked laughter from the audience, she continued: “No, no, I’m absolutely confident that the judge will be able to disabuse his or her mind of the fact that she has a very extensive and lewd prior sexual history.”
Another respected Toronto lawyer — who happened to graduate from Osgoode Hall the same year as Henein — has been hired to investigate allegations about Ghomeshi within the CBC.
Janice Rubin, an employment lawyer with a reputation for being a thorough and balanced workplace investigator, has co-written a book on the subject and has been called into high-profile situations before.
Rubin, who 11 years ago co-founded law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP, conducted the probe into allegations of sexual harassment by a trustee at the TDSB earlier this year. A frequent media commentator, she has also appeared on CBC shows, both radio and TV.
A CBC spokesperson said management was aware of Rubin’s prior history with the CBC when they made their decision to hire her for the investigation.
Rubin will deliver two reports, one into the complaints, and one into changes CBC can make to prevent “similar issues from arising in our organization in the future,” said CBC’s executive vice-president for English services, Heather Conway, in a staff memo.
Complaints not involving the Ghomeshi investigation are to go to human resources, CBC has said.
- With files from Toronto Star Staff