From the President: Edward Greenspan, Q.C.

Edward Greenspan was a great criminal defense lawyer, a prolific writer, and a compassionate advocate for fundamental rights.

Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.

It was a joyous night, a rare coinciding holiday — Christmas Eve and the last night of Hanukkah. Like so many others, we were in the midst of family hoopla and laughs galore, until my phone pinged. All changed. A new and terribly sad notice appeared in the subject line. It’s always terrible to see the name of a friend in the subject line. It does not bode well and even before reading the content, the message is clear — “Sad News: Eddie Greenspan.”

Eddie passed on Dec. 24, 2014, and the news was posted to the NACDL general listserv along with an obituary. Simultaneously, my head was filled with thoughts of the frailty and finality of life, an ever-present constant and uniform reminder that surfaces during these sad times, and the initial wishful disbelief (“no, no, no, it can’t be”) that is actually a sorrowful recognition of a harsh reality. Combined with the greatness of Eddie Greenspan and the unexpected and enormity of the loss, it was staggering.

I flew to Toronto on Dec. 28 to attend the memorial service of Eddie Greenspan. Among so many other things he was a Life Member of NACDL, but that is not why I am writing.

Eddie lived his life by example and deed; he was the epitome of the criminal defense function. In addition to being a “QC” or Queens Counsel, the highest award for a practitioner in the Commonwealth of Nations, he was a prolific and relentless writer, author, speaker, and public advocate for individual, fundamental rights and freedoms. Eddie was a mentor for legions of lawyers who answered his clarion call to do criminal defense work because it was noble and critically necessary for any society.

Upon my return from the memorial service I wrote to our members, in part, that Eddie “was a giant of the Canadian Criminal Defense Bar.” Stuart Friedman added his thoughts:

Eddie was not just a top Canadian lawyer. He was one of the greatest criminal lawyers ever. His victory in United States v. Burns, getting the Canadian Supreme Court to deny extradition of people to face the death penalty, was an unexpected and amazing victory. It effectively required the court to overrule a 10-year-old ruling. The fear that U.S. [murderers] would start running to Canada was a theme that the Crown repeatedly chanted. His passionate and successful fight against the death penalty was truly inspiring. … The legal [profession] lost an amazing advocate.

He was indeed a giant of the Canadian Criminal Defense Bar. However, that should never be construed as a limitation. His skill and brilliance permitted him to cross international borders and represent, pro hac vice, Conrad Black at his high-profile fraud trial in Chicago.

His talented daughter and law partner Julianna Greenspan said that he was not only for the defense, he “was the defense.” Eddie was an extraordinary lawyer, enormously funny, fantastically loyal, compassionate, and generous. His devotion to his clients and his lifelong dedication to the practice of criminal law are legendary. Here are examples of some of the things he did:

  • Closed his practice for many months in 1986 to tour Canada and successfully advocate against the reinstatement of the death penalty then being considered by the legislature.
  • Spoke in favor of the enforcement of constitutional rights and the assurance that illegally obtained evidence would not be admitted.
  • Advocated for full and complete discovery as evidenced by the Canadian system in accordance with its leading case, Stinchome, and was a vocal opponent of the comparative failures he observed in the U.S. federal discovery system.
  • Authored over 200 articles for newspapers and magazines on civil and criminal law issues.
  • Lectured at law schools throughout Canada and gave presentations around the world about various subjects including the role of the criminal lawyer as well as freedom of speech.
  • Served as editor or co-editor of leading Canadian legal publications such as Martin’s Annual Criminal Code and Canadian Criminal Cases for nearly 40 years.

It is not surprising that a “who’s who” list of judges and lawyers made their way to the synagogue, the gravesite, and Eddie’s home to pay their respects. Many of the Canadian lawyers I met are also NACDL members.

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Julianna Greenspan delivered a remarkable eulogy to approximately 900 attendees. She captivated them with words that simultaneously demonstrated her profound loss and were so uproariously funny that she rivaled the best of stand-up comedy.

Making people laugh was my dad’s drug. And he was addicted. He was always compulsively gathering articles and jokes to put into his critical red file to add to his next great speech. He was so ridiculously obsessed with speeches that he actually discussed with me what he expected in the speech at his funeral. … It made him crazy that he couldn’t give his own eulogy because he was sure he’d be funnier than anyone else who would give it.

The press reporting on my father’s death has been overwhelming. The press always loved him, partly because he was always available, partly because he was so reliable to give a great quote, and also because he had such an enormous head that just looked fabulous on television. In the last few days, every Canadian television and radio station has talked about him. …Newspapers across the country and internationally have written about him. The accolades and praise of the past few days have been unbelievable. … If my father knew the outpouring of press coverage would have been so enormous, he would have faked his death years ago.

If he knew just how many tweets have been posted about him, he would have been shocked, mostly because he had absolutely no clue what a “tweet” is. But, he would still demand to know exactly how many there were.

Unfortunately, over the last few years, my dad and I attended a number of funerals for colleagues and friends. During the funerals, he kept me very busy, counting the number of people in attendance. He would then ask me how many people I thought would come to his funeral. … I told him, “Dad, don’t worry, you’ll never know.” Looking around the room today at the overwhelming number of people who are here and who truly loved him, I know my dad would still not be satisfied until I made sure to do a head count. So, I counted throughout the funeral, and I can say it’s the biggest number we ever saw.

As part of Julianna’s eulogy, she quoted the words her father crafted, modified, tweaked, and honed for more than 30 years. Some of his words answered so eloquently the perennial “cocktail party” question laypeople always ask defense lawyers: “How can you do what you do?”

These are my dad’s words that he wrote and said over and over throughout his career to anyone who would listen: People always ask: How can you represent a guilty man? There is a very simple, quick, and complete answer. Our whole system of criminal justice is built on the basic premise that every man is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. His guilt must be shown by evidence produced by a prosecutor in a courtroom — not in a newspaper or a news broadcast.

I haven’t the slightest moral conflict defending people accused of homicide, sexual assault, business fraud, environmental offenses, or even crimes against humanity. I don’t “draw the line” at anything. If I defended crimes, maybe I would — but I don’t defend crimes. I only defend people, innocent people. Until they are found guilty there are no other kinds of people for me to defend, and what difference does it make what an innocent person is accused of?

If you are a criminal lawyer, you stand between the abuse of governmental power and the individual. If you are a criminal lawyer, you stand between the abuse of judicial power and the individual. If you are a criminal lawyer, you are helping to mold the rights of individuals for generations to come.

In the search for justice, the criminal lawyer has a pivotal role to play. It is his or her responsibility to see that the accused is not unfairly deprived of his freedom. By protecting defendants, whether guilty or innocent, from the abuse of power by the state, the criminal lawyer protects us all.

While Eddie’s focus at times may have been upon Canada and its criminal justice system, his beliefs were equally applicable worldwide. His courage, persistence, and dedication had no bounds, no boundaries, and certainly no borders. Those who knew Eddie loved him, those who knew of him admired him, those whom he represented thanked him, and those who opposed him respected him. We can learn so much from Eddie Greenspan. I suggest we do.

NACDL, Amen.

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About the Author

Theodore “Ted” Simon is an attorney in private practice in Philadelphia, Pa., where he has based a local, national, state, federal, and international trial and appellate practice representing individuals and corporations. Simon has obtained reversals in the U.S. Supreme Court and in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He is a leading authority on the representation of Americans abroad, extradition, and international prisoner transfer. Simon is a Trustee of the Foundation for Criminal Justice. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Philadelphia’s Jenkins Law Library, America’s first law library.