Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Zealous Lawyer Deemed Uncivil in Bre-X Fraud Defence, Appeal Court Rules

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Zealous Lawyer Deemed Uncivil in Bre-X Fraud Defence, Appeal Court Rules

Article excerpt

Lawyer deemed uncivil in Bre-X fraud defence


TORONTO - A prominent securities lawyer breached the rules for civil behaviour during his aggressive defence of a man charged in the 1990s billion-dollar Bre-X mining fiasco, Ontario's top court ruled Tuesday.

In a split decision, the court sided with the society that regulates the legal profession in Ontario in finding Joe Groia went too far.

"The requirement of professionalism for lawyers, both inside and outside a courtroom, including zealous advocacy accompanied by courtesy, civility and good faith dealings, secures the nobility of the profession in which lawyers in this province are privileged to practise," the Appeal Court said.

"This requirement was breached in this case."

The decision is the latest in an epic battle between Groia, who successfully defended the only person charged in the history-making securities scandal, and the Law Society of Upper Canada, which at one point suspended him for two months and ordered him to pay $247,000 in costs -- later reduced to one month suspension and $200,000.

Among other things, the society's disciplinary panel faulted the Toronto lawyer for repeatedly slagging the prosecution. It also cited critical comments judges made during the labyrinthine hearings against his client, Bre-X vice-president John Felderhof, who was ultimately acquitted of fraud.

"To say that the...prosecution against Mr. Felderhof was complex, protracted and exceptionally acrimonious significantly understates the time-consuming, stressful and confrontational climate that rapidly infected the proceeding," said Justice Eleanor Cronk in writing for the majority.

Records show one judge involved in the Bre-X case said Groia was prone to "rhetorical excess and sarcasm" and "petulant invective," while another said he engaged in "guerilla theatre."

Groia, who said the misconduct finding against him would dampen the vigour with which lawyers defend their clients in tough cases, lost an initial appeal to Divisional Court. …

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