A "chilling moment" for defence lawyers?

The Law Society disciplinary panel ruling that Joe Groia violated civility rules in his defence of former Bre-X geologist, John Felderhof, more than a decade ago, creates unease amongst lawyers

By Todd Harrison

On Friday June 29th, 2012

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groiaA Law Society disciplinary panel ruled yesterday that Joe Groia violated civility rules in his defence of former Bre-X geologist John Felderhof more than a decade ago.

Globe law reporter Jeff Gray writes that Groia may appeal, which stands to reason on myriad levels — including the prominent defence lawyer’s assertion that declaring his actions to be professional misconduct could create a ripple effect, causing his peers to ease off in defence of their clients for fear of censure.

That sentiment was echoed by Edward Greenspan in an article about the Groia case that appeared in the winter 2011 issue of Precedent. “I think these kinds of prosecutions are going to have a chilling effect on lawyers,” Greenspan told us. “If a citizen is in a fight for their life, the trial lawyer should not have to give themselves a sedative before they go into a courtroom in order to avoid vigorously defending their client, out of fear of appearing uncivil.”

The proceedings against Groia have been nearly as drawn-out and fraught with controversy as the Bre-X trial itself. In its decision, the panel rejected the claim “that the duty of civility can compromise a lawyer’s duty to defend a client vigorously and zealously in a criminal proceedings,” and called Groia’s behaviour during the trial “wrong in law.”

On his Twitter account, lawyer and legal writer Philip Slayton called yesterday’s ruling  “an absurd decision” that “makes [the Law Society] look bad, not Groia.”


Photo by Jennifer Roberts