- Created on Wednesday, 02 October 2013 19:03
- Hits: 337
By LIANE ABBEY
He doesn’t judge his clients, and that may be due to the rough neighbourhood he once called home in Niagara Falls.
Enthusiastic applause welcomed famous defence lawyer Edward Greenspan’s appearance on stage at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 as close to 400 students, alumni and faculty gathered at Niagara College’s Welland campus to hear his opinion about the judicial system.
Most in the audience were from the Justice Studies division.
Greenspan spoke about living in a rough Niagara Falls neighbourhood as a child and attending class at Valleyway Public School. “I grew up on the streets of Niagara Falls. Most of my friends ended up in penitentiaries.”
This, he emphasized, helped influence his decision to become a criminal defence lawyer.
His fame began in Grade 11, when he won a trip to New York City for a speech at a public speaking competition.
He graduated high school and began his studies at the University of Toronto where he received his bachelor of arts degree in 1965. Three years later he went on to receive his law degree, LLB from world renowned, Osgoode Hall Law School.
He began his lecture by answering what, he says, is the most commonly asked question: “How can you defend those people?”
Greenspan grabbed listeners’ attention by stating, “Al Capone’s mother had a much more tolerable understanding for my job.”
“These people are clients. The role we occupy as a criminal lawyer is so misunderstood.”
One of the biggest confusions, Greenspan says, about being a defence attorney, is that he doesn’t form a moral-based opinion about the client.
“I don’t refuse clients for the crime they have been accused of.
“For me, it’s like a medical doctor refusing to treat those with syphilis or AIDS.”
Greenspan reinforced his statements by telling the audience that one guilty act, or lapse of judgment, does not define the character of the accused.
“It’s my job to remind the court that there is more than just one moment to a person’s life.”
In addition, he reminded the listeners that crime is circumstantial, in most cases, to events leading up to the crime committed.
Jim Norgate, co-ordinator of the Police Foundations program, organized the event. He says he wanted to provide Niagara College students the chance to see and hear from people who are super achievers.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see someone who is the best of the best.
“Mr. Greenspan was the only person on my list to be the Inaugural Distinguished Speaker.”
Amber Ziomick, 20, an Advanced Law student, and executive vice-president of the Student Administrative Council, says the lecture gave her insight into the esteemed criminal lawyer’s side of the law.
“It’s an interesting perspective I wouldn’t really have had otherwise.”
Andrew Vivaldo, 30, of the Police Foundations program, says it was interesting to see law looked at from a defence attorney’s perspective.
“Being police, obviously, we are in favour of the Crown, and the defence could look at us as opposition and the enemy.
But, in reality, they [defence lawyers] are just defending the administration of justice, making sure that nothing goes into disrepute and making sure police are doing the job correctly.
Vivaldo says it was a very good presentation for the Justice Studies students, a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
He describing the auditorium as a “packed house” and calling Greenspan “an intelligent gentleman.”
Greenspan went on to explain that Canada has had influential defence lawyers present at the most iconic times.
These include political figures such as first Prime Minister Sir John A MacDonald, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, Métis activist Louis Riel, and former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Greenspan is teaching a class at Brock University on criminal justice, as well as continuing his legal practice in Toronto.
He says it was difficult, and he works a lot of long 18-hour days, getting about three hours of sleep “for as long as I can remember.”
His advice to the students in the college’s Justice Studies program is “follow your passion.”
As for retirement?
“The word retirement isn’t something I know.”