EDDIE GREENSPAN TAKES ON THE CASE OF HIS LIFE, PLAYING BY NEW RULES, ON A FOREIGN STAGE • BY ANNE KINGSTON
Eddie sleeves town He’s in a former holding Greenspan in Toronto. his wood-panelled bank building forth It’s on sits mid-February. why in his office he in downwon’t shirt talk about the case of the United States vs. Conrad Black. “I will not discuss the defence,” he says. “All I can tell you is that we’re pleading not guilty, absolutely pleading not guilty. We’re going to Chicago ready for the trial. This is our chance, now, in a court of law, to have Conrad Black vindicated.”
A jury of 12 will try this case, Greenspan explains. “That’s where trials are conducted— or at least that’s what I was taught in law school—not in the press.” Still, he can’t help himself. This is a guy who read the Criminal Code on his honeymoon. Who closed down his practice for months to do pro bono advocacy against the death penalty. Who, at age 62, still puts in 18-hour days, six days a week. Who has said he’ll never retire. Law isn’t his profession, it’s his fetish.
Greenspan’s status as Canada’s most prominent criminal defence lawyer derives in good part from his formidable courtroom skills. But his codependent relationship with the media hasn’t hurt either. “Look, you can ask
me whatever you want,” he says in the amiably gruff manner that has bonded him with countless juries.
“I don’t mind you trying. But I will never cross the line of talking about the trial.” And then, he does. It’s a bravura performance; he deftly defends his client, describing a “calculated attack” against him, all the while teasing his audience with possible defence gambits.
“I’m not didactic about anything in this case,” he
says. “I don’t have a firm view on what we should or what we shouldn’t do because we do not have a firm or clear view of what the prosecution’s going to do.” Twenty minutes later, he’s laying out the prosecution’s MO: “Trust me, trust me, they will take the position—because prosecutors invariably do—they will downplay the significance of David Radler,”
he says, referring to Black’s former right-hand man who cut a deal with the government, agreeing to testify against Black. “Of course they won’t be able to explain, if they’re downplaying the significance of Radler, why they gave him such an obscenely wonderful deal.” He goes on. The infamous tip to the Bergdorf Goodman doorman, the dinner at Le Cirque with the Kissingers, all of it has been distorted, he claims: The tip? Paid by a driver. The dinner? A legitimate business expense.
Greenspan may be world-famous in Canada, but when he appears for the first time at federal court in Chicago on March 14, the stage will be new and unfamiliar. Imagine the country’s best actor appearing on Broadway for the first time. Or, to use a sports analogy, a player who has excelled in the National League playing by American League rules without home field advantage. For Greenspan, the stakes have never been higher. Black faces a potential jail sentence of 95 years—longer than that of someone accused of murder in Canada. Greenspan and noted Chicago criminal defence attorney Edward Genson will be under the scrutiny of the international media. His performance will determine Black’s fate and his legacy. Certainly, it’s seen as the cap of an illustrious career that dates back to
Greenspan’s precocious desire to become a lawyer as a boy in Niagara Falls, Ont. He was inspired by his father, who completed one year of law school before being forced to drop out to take over the family’s scrap business. Joseph Greenspan died of a heart attack at age 42 before seeing his two sons, Eddie and his younger brother Brian, rise to the top of
a at of
the field. Called to the bar in 1970, Greenspan made a name for himself—win or lose. Two of his most famous early cases, in fact, involved men accused and eventually convicted of arranging the murders of their wives: Peter Demeter in 1974 and Helmuth Buxbaum in 1986. (Greenspan’s purported $1.3-million fee for defending Buxbaum prompted countless lawyers to quip: “I could have gotten him convicted for half that.”) His wins have been equally high-profile. His successful 1998 defence of former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan on 17 sex-related charges is still seen as a Houdini act. The acquittal stemmed in part from Greenspan’s portrayal of Regan as the victim of an unfair, biased and politically motivated investigation, a strategy that has resonance in the Black case.
Greenspan’s the go-to guy when the rich and famous fall afoul of the law; his client roster has included Garth Drabinsky and Karlheinz Schreiber and, currently, boasts Dr. Roger Perrault, the former Red Cross director charged in the tainted blood scandal, and Anthony Ianiero, the son of the Woodbridge, Ont., couple slain in Mexico last year. He’s a legal mercenary, willing to defend anyone, no matter how reviled. In his 1987 memoir Greenspan: The Case for the Defence, the lawyer who once said he’d represent Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel writes: “A lawyer like me only defends clients. Clients, and not crimes (or hate or lies). Lawyers like me go to court for one reason only, and that is to get the best result for a client.”
Among colleagues, Greenspan is known for his painstaking preparation. “A lot of lawyers who experience success think they’re winning cases because of their sheer intellect,” says Toronto criminal defence lawyer Frank Addario. “They stop doing the work and they just become big huffers and puffers and they say, ‘You should just believe me because I’m me.’ Eddie never fell into that trap.”
Of the lawyer’s role in the courtroom, Greenspan has said, “You are the choreographer, the director.” Jurors connect to his candid, droll manner. When defending Kellie Everts, an exotic dancer accused of indecency who said she got her instruction to strip from the Almighty, Greenspan asked
the court: “What if God really did talk to her? Do you really want to gamble she’s not telling the truth?” Everts was acquitted. He’s finely attuned to details that can distract or alienate jurors. “I’ve never worn a watch in a courtroom in my life,” he says. “I don’t wear rings. When I started out and no one had heard of me I didn’t want anybody to know anything about me. I wanted it to be neutral.” He has avoided getting a suntan for the same reason. Like an athlete or an actor, he’s superstitious and ritualistic. “I will not clean my robes ever during a trial,” he says. “I mean, I wear a different shirt every day but I will wear the same [shirt] tabs.” He wears the same pair of cufflinks his assistant gave him years ago. “One day I wore them and I won a case. And I think it’s because of those damn cufflinks.”
Black in November hired Greenspan 2003, as after his legal stepping adviser down as CEO of Hollinger International when the company reported US$32 million in unauthorized payments to
executives. The two go way back, having first crossed paths in 1965 when both were firstyear law students at Osgoode Hall. (Black dropped out in his first year, later to earn a law degree at Laval.) Greenspan’s close friendship with Barbara Amiel dates back to the mid-’70s. When criminal charges were laid in 2005 in Chicago, Greenspan recommended his friend Eddie Genson join the team. He met Genson in 1998 when his daughter
Julianna took a job at Genson’s firm after graduating from Northwestern law school. Black is comfortable with the choice. “We wanted a tough, canny Chicago counsel who knows all of the tricks of the courthouse and he certainly lives up to that,” he says.
Indeed, the 65-year-old roly-poly bearded attorney is a Chicago legend. Raised on the tough west side, he began his legal education as a boy trailing his bail bondsman father through the Chicago courts, encountering characters named Fat Charlie Cohen and Short Pencil Romanoff. After graduating from Northwestern in 1965, Genson built his practice by taking on close to 100 cases a year, often charging little. Like Greenspan, Genson’s not finicky about who he represents. His avowed dislike of sexual misconduct cases (“I just don’t like to be in a case where I have to cross-examine a woman victim. I feel bad for them,” he once said) didn’t prevent him from representing former congressman Mel Reynolds, who was convicted in 1995 of having sexual relations with an underage cam-
paign volunteer. Currently, he is representing R&B singer R. Kelly on child pornography charges. One of his most spectacular trials was in 1998 when he defended Frank Caruso, Jr., a white teenager accused of attempted murder in the savage beating of a 13-yearold black boy. The case polarized the city. In his closing argument, Genson filled the courtroom with distraught, tearful Caruso relatives. His client was acquitted of attempted
murder, convicted of aggravated battery and sentenced to eight years. Later Genson said the outcome was the one he expected.
Genson’s practice has profited from Chicago’s buoyant supply of indicted politicians. After he won a not-guilty verdict for former state representative Miguel Santiago on
corruption charges in 1998, a Santiago friend sent him a thank you letter that read in part, “Eddie, you are truly a magician.” It hangs framed on his office for prospective clients to see. His experience defending “white-collar” cases involving the kind of sophisticated financial dealings that characterize the Black case, however, is limited. Of defending Black he has joked: “He’s my first lord.”
In the courtroom, Genson adopts an air of vague disorganization that colleagues say camouflages the wiles of a shrewd tactician. “He’s a very personable guy who relates well to the jury,” says Joseph A. Power, Jr., a Chicago lawyer. “His reputation is of a straight shooter. There’s no pomposity about him.
His style is relaxed, very down to earth; he has a great sense of humour.”
Genson’s flamboyant courtroom presence is heightened by his dystonia, a neuromuscular condition that forces him to walk as if he has a severe hip injury. He arrives at court in a scooter and uses a cane which, legend has it, he once thwacked on a courtroom table for dramatic effect. When cross-examining witnesses, he often sits atop a stool, sometimes lugged across the court by co-counsel. “You watch him and are captivated,” says Julianna Greenspan, who returned to Canada to work with her father in 2003, and who is part of the Black defence team. Genson’s disability evokes jurors’ sympathy, she says. “They see this incredibly effective lawyer and look at what he’s overcoming as he does his incredibly impressive cross-examination. They listen to him more.” Black calls Genson a “swashbuckling Damon Runyon figure.” Greenspan and Genson hit it off when they met over dinner in Chicago. “Our characters are not all that different,” Greenspan says. Indeed, the similarities between the two Eddies are eerie: the same initials; both have wives named Susan; both are known for their shrewd, salt-of-the-earth style; both have won big and lost big. Both also charge top dollar, though far less than the high-profile American lawyers who asked astronomical sums— upwards of US$20 million—to represent Black. “American legal fees are astounding—breathtaking,” says Greenspan, always mindful of his client. “And as things got tougher civilly for him, and as he was being denied access to funds—Ravelston goes into receivership, and Hollinger, he’s out, things are happening in terms of his Park Avenue home—he had to rethink his position about who should be heading up the criminal defence team.” Rumours in legal circles have Greenspan and Genson billing $3 million each, a figure Greenspan refuses to confirm for the record. Black
says money wasn’t a factor. “It wasn’t that I didn’t have the means to pay,” he says. He wanted Greenspan “because he was passionately committed to the case and knew me well and knew what kind of outrage it was.” Of Greespan and Genson he says: “I think it’s a dynamite combination.”
Greenspan’s appearance in Chicago federal court before Judge Amy St. Eve is his second foray into the U.S. judicial system. In 1973, he was retained by a Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native charged with arson after his Michigan cottage burned down. He recalls attending the opening day of trial in Traverse City, Mich. “It was the
same courtroom that they used in Anatomy of a Murder so I was calling it the Anatomy of an Arson. I was all excited about it. I went to court and I was interviewed on the doorstep of the court by the local television reporter who asked me whether it was the first time a Canadian had come to Michigan. I modestly said, ‘I think so, but I don’t know.’ So I went into court and waited for the client, waited for the client, and he didn’t come, he didn’t come. I called him in Sault Ste. Marie and said, ‘Where are you? The trial is starting today!’ He said, ‘I’m not coming.’ So I snuck out the back of the courtroom and went back to Canada.”
Upon closer inspection, Greenspan says, the U.S. system varies dramatically from Canada’s: “I’m playing by a totally different set of rules.” Oral argument, a hallmark of the Canadian system, has less place in the U.S., a system driven by written submissions over which the judge decides. Canadian courts are more formal. Longer preparation time
is provided, whereas disclosure rules in the U.S. allow for constant surprises. Black was charged in November 2005, but his lawyers only received the basic statements of the proposed witnesses in mid-January, Greenspan says. The fact that new witnesses can be called throughout the trial can also create havoc. “If you said to the judge, ‘I’m just finding out Thursday that on Monday David Radler’s going to testify,’ and the judge says, ‘Yeah? What’s your problem?’ ‘The problem is that I need a month to prepare for this!’ Too bad. You don’t get the time, you don’t get the adjournment. Efficiency seems to be a fairly important goal in their system.”
The different pace has required adjustment.
“My father has grown accustomed to sit down and pay attention to all aspects of the law and all aspects of the facts and savour everything so he can present a formal presentation in the courtroom. That doesn’t happen in the U.S.,” says Julianna Greenspan. “People say the U.S. system is much more ‘cowboy,’ and it is. They feel they don’t have the time to do due process. They’re rushing all the time constantly.” Eddie Greenspan complains about the tsunami of paper. “There’s millions of documents and there’s no cataloguing of it; we have to work our way through it,” he says. “Here it’s more orderly and it’s more systematic.”
Greenspan, who has been given dispensation to appear by the Illinois bar, calls his working relationship with Genson “a shared project.” He will act as lead counsel. The pace of the trial, which is expected to run four months, is such that there could be four or five potentially important witnesses in a day. Both lawyers will cross-examine and be part
of arguments and examinations as a team. Radler will be Greenspan’s to interrogate. As cross-examinations go, it’s as eagerly awaited as Michael Jackson’s. Greenspan is known to use any means necessary, within the law, to discredit witnesses, even dredging up seemingly unrelated evidence. At the Regan trial, he undermined one female accuser’s testimony by introducing an old school document she had forged. “I’m pretty relentless in terms of making sure I’ve exhausted the issues that matter,” he says. “I may not be happy enough when I get the answer I’m looking for; I may keep going in order to make sure I have shown—even though they may not say it—that they’re genuinely liars.”
Already the critics are circling. Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne, for one, is not a Greenspan fan. The lawyer pilloried the writer’s influence in a documentary about Dunne, a criticism that reveals Greenspan’s sensitivity to the power of the media in judicial outcome. “He spoke so terribly about me, in a sneering and mocking manner,” Dunne says. “I not only have never met him, I had never heard of him or seen him before. I don’t know why he was so vile about me.” Dunne plans to drop in on the trial if only for revenge: “The main reason is so I can write something terrible about him. I really hope he’s a public flop and Conrad has to fire him. Conrad’s fired a lot of lawyers. The mick in me always wants to get even.” Greenspan laughs when he hears this. “Tell him I’ll read anything he writes about me—good or bad—and love it.” In 1999, Amiel wrote of Greenspan’s need for the limelight in Macleans: “His Achilles heel is his hunger for what society offers—the applause the Yiddish call nadies.”
In this regard, ironically, Greenspan is like his client, whose public condemnation of the prosecution and U.S. judicial system sets him up for harsher sentencing should he be convicted. “If he’s found guilty on even one count, it’ll be a bloodbath,” predicts one lawyer. “He’ll be seen as an unrepentant fraudsman. Eddie can’t control that.” Greenspan says his friendship with the Blacks doesn’t add more pressure than he customarily feels defending a client. “I don’t feel differently about this case,” he says. After a pause, he amends the statement; the burden in the Black case is far higher, he says: “The consequences of the result are so enormous in this case over other cases in Canada where we do not have remotely the kind of harsh system of punishment. Avoiding punishment at all costs is what I’m asked to do in every case and try to do in every case, but in this case it’s far more acute.” The message is clear: as he provides theatre for so many, Greenspan will be trying the case of his life. M