Edward Greenspan for the defence

A high-flying lawyer wins cases and respect

Rae Corelli January 17 2000

Edward Greenspan for the defence

A high-flying lawyer wins cases and respect

Rae Corelli January 17 2000
When he stands, his trouser cuffs sometimes bunch up on top of his shoes, either because his pants are too long or his red suspenders are out of adjustment. On this occasion, his white shirt, the collar undone and the buttons stretched by a passion for junk food, looks as though he has slept in it. His necktie is a stringy ribbon of indeterminate color that wanders across his chest from the off-kilter knot under his right ear to his belt. Eddie Greenspan is clearly not among the nations best dressed criminal defense lawyers. “Em just not a clotheshorse,” he says. “I got three suits.”

But he is among the best at what he does—perhaps the best in Canada. During the past 30 years, this son of a Niagara Falls, Ont., scrap dealer has built a formidable reputation for winning high-profile cases in courtrooms from one end of the country to the other. “I may have some natural talent, but I don’t rely on it,” Greenspan says. “That’s why I work 18 hours a day.”

That combination of ability and stamina, says Halifax defense counsel Joel Pink, has likely made Greenspan the “top criminal lawyer in the country. When Eddie walks into a courtroom, they treat him with a great deal of respect and he probably gets away with things that local lawyers couldn’t.” Retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Willard Estey calls Greenspan “an extremely good criminal lawyer and the leader in that bar.” And Toronto trial lawyer Harvey Strosberg says: “No one works harder and is more deadly in the courtroom.” The plaudits are widespread, but they are not universal. One exception: Toronto litigation counsel Ian Outerbridge, who acknowledges Greenspan’s talents but thinks veteran criminal defense lawyer Austin Cooper, also of Toronto, is more capable.

Among Greenspan’s latest headline-making challenges: representing Daniel Weiz, the 19year-old Israeli soldier charged (along with three other teenagers) with second-degree murder in the Nov. 14 beating death of 15-yearold Matti Baranovski in a Toronto park. Greenspan is also pursuing a $1-million wrongful-arrest lawsuit he launched in mid-November against Canada and Germany on behalf of Karlheinz Schreiber, a central figure in the long-running Airbus scandal who is wanted in Germany on suspicion of income tax evasion and fraud. The suit alleges that the 65-year-old Schreibers arrest by the RCMP last Aug. 31 was illegal because he has not been formally charged with anything.

In yet another case, Greenspan has asked the Supreme Court of Canada for a stay of proceedings in nine sexual misconduct charges against former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan. In December, 1998, Regan was acquitted of eight other more serious offenses, including rape.

At 55, Greenspan’s irreverence, knee-buckling schedule (he has from 30 to 50 active cases at any given time) and his artful use of the media have made him a kind of courtroom superstar. He has become the Canadian counterpart of American celebrity lawyers like F. Lee Bailey (defender of Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler) and Alan Dershowitz, who not only got Claus von Bulow acquitted of attempting to murder his wife but appeared in Reversal of Fortune, the 1990 movie based on the case.

While Greenspan has yet to follow Dershowitz onto the silver screen, he has scored well on radio and television. From 1982 to 1990, he was the host-narrator of the award-winning The Scales of Justice, a CBC FM series on famous Canadian trials. Then in 1994, the CBC switched Greenspan and Scales to television, where it won a Gemini Award in 1993 as best show of the year. “I like going on TV and radio to discuss issues,” he says. “Do I like the publicity that brings? I’m not shy about it—sure, I don’t mind it, I get tickled by it.”

Publicity has not always been amusing. In 1966, when Greenspan was still a student, his firm dispatched him to take notes at hearings in Toronto of a royal commission into the collapse of the Atlantic Acceptance Corp. Ltd., a finance company. The sessions were so tedious that he fell asleep and the judge had to ask a court attendant to wake him up. “It was the first time I ever got my name in the paper,” says Greenspan. But not the last time he dozed in court. Once, during a trial revolving around the theft of more than 800 car parts, a prosecution witness began reading all the serial numbers into the record and Greenspan soon nodded off. “Forty-five minutes later when I’m just starting to snore, my partner wakes me up and the first thing I hear is ‘B-20, 0-17’ and I say ‘Bingo!’ Everybody laughed except the judge, who hadn’t heard me.”

His 12 years in broadcasting gave Greenspan national exposure and probably brought him clients—many of them prominent or wealthy—that he would not otherwise have had. And while he wins most of his cases, there have been some spectacular defeats. One was the four-month-long first degree murder trial in 1986 of Helmut Buxbaum, owner of a string of southwestern Ontario nursing homes, who paid Greenspan nearly $1 million to defend him. But Buxbaum was convicted in the contract-killing of his wife despite Greenspan’s argument that the Crown had failed to establish a motive.

Greenspan’s critics at the stodgier end of the legal profession claim he unashamedly uses the media to score points for the people he represents. To that accusation, Greenspan reacts heatedly. “I have never gone to the press to get them involved in a case of mine,” he says. “If they’re already involved, then I have no hesitation in dealing with the press and using it to help my client.”

So what does this help cost the client by the hour? “I’m not going to tell you,” he replies. “You get yourself charged with a criminal offense and it’ll be my pleasure to tell you, but I’m not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.” (He admits to charging between $5,000 and $7,500 for an impaired-driving defense.) However, he says, “if somebody hasn’t got the money and convinces me of the justice of their case, then the money doesn’t matter and I’ll take the case for nothing.”

About 10 years ago, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce closed its branch at Jarvis and King streets in downtown Toronto. In 1995, Greenspan bought the colonnaded grey-stone three-storey building, evicted the rats and spent a rumoured $750,000 on renovations, including a chandelier the size of a Volkswagen that hangs from the library’s nine metre high ceiling. He kept the ground floor for himself; his four partners labour upstairs.

Many people in the legal community consider Greenspan Canada's top criminal lawyer

At one end of the library’s richly polished boardroom table that could comfortably seat more than a dozen people, Greenspan is peeling the plastic wrapping from a takeout salmon sandwich. “Left to my own devices, I would go to a fast-food place three times a day,” he says. He credits his wife, Suzy, with introducing him to fine dining and, with equally mixed results, to literature, classical music and a love of travel. He reads a lot of crime novels (“it’s embarrassing to admit all this”) by authors such as Ruth Rendell, Elmore Leonard and Patricia Cornwell. “I also read the sports pages every day,” says Greenspan, “because it’s an occupational hazard that a lot of judges and Crown attorneys know a lot about sports and I can’t stand not knowing what they’re talking about.”

Suzy Greenspan has had less success with music. “Once we were in Rome and we went to an outdoor opera and saw Aida, and there were like 30 elephants onstage and I thought this was unbelievable,” Greenspan says. “So I made her go the next night to see—what is it? Cavelleria Something—and there were sheep all over and I loved it. So we came back and I decided to become an opera fan, but when we went to one where there were no animals, I fell asleep. So I started going to zoos.”

Among his colleagues, Greenspan’s quest for the perfect hamburger is almost as noteworthy as his skills in the courtroom. Calgary lawyer John Bascom remembers the time about 10 years ago when a friend acted as Greenspan’s co-counsel in a local case. “They’d work until two o’clock in the morning,” Bascom says, “and then Eddie would want hamburgers and they had to drive around town looking for a place, which wasn’t that easy to find back then.” Halifax’s Joel Pink says that when Greenspan was there for the Regan trial, “he told me he had found the best restaurants in Halifax for hamburgers. He had probably eaten in all of them, but they were not on the top of my list of places to dine. I think his favorite place later burned down.”

Greenspan’s torrid race through the justice system has littered the legal landscape with anecdotes. During the Regan trial, says Strosberg, Greenspan was cross-examining a witness “who began replying to a question by saying, ‘Well, Eddie.’ ” Greenspan, says Strosberg, replied by saying, “ ‘to you, I’m Mr. Greenspan and you’re Ms. So-and-so.’ About 15 minutes later, she said she’d heard something to the effect that he was the best criminal lawyer in the country—and he said, ‘Now you can call me Eddie.’ ”

The Greenspans have two daughters. Samantha, 21, is in a two-year master’s program in nutrition at New York University. Julianna, 27, practices criminal law in Chicago. Their parents inhabit the empty nest—a mortgage free, million-dollar home in an exclusive north Toronto enclave. “That’s what Suzy wanted, that’s what the kids wanted,” Greenspan says. “It doesn’t mean much to me.”

Nor, it seems, does anything else, except his family and the law. He lectures University of Toronto law students, and has for more than 20 years been the editor of Martins Annual Criminal Code, the criminal lawyers bible. He scorns “sanctimonious lawyers who want to act only for innocent people,” and claims that Canadian fears about crime are aroused by American TV (“we are not a violent society”).

But what really worries him, Greenspan says, are politically correct trends in the criminal justice system towards defining and protecting the rights of “so-called victims—and I’m talking about children and women.” Crown attorneys, he says, no longer spend time trying to determine a complainant’s truthfulness; instead, Greenspan says, “we have a rule of law now that says children don’t lie because victims don’t lie. Where are we in a system in which if a child says something, then you automatically believe it? I would have thought that the rule is you would automatically not believe it. Somebody cries rape, they’re not lying, they can’t be lying, so anybody who’s accused has to be lying.” Does all this discourage him? “No, it makes me angry,” Greenspan says. “If we do not defend against these bad ideas, we’re going to lose our liberties, as sure as sure can be.”