Last night, a gathering of 400 or so of Toronto's esteemed citizens celebrated the career, philanthropy and public service of Canada's most famous criminal defense attorney, Eddie Greenspan. In the ornate 2nd floor ballroom of the soon-to-be demolished Yorkville landmark Four Seasons Hotel, guests and presenters included Lieutenant Governor David Onley, PostMedia's Paul Godfrey, and the one of the most famous lawyers in the history of the profession, F. Lee Bailey. Somehow I got invited (possibly the same way Peter Sellers' character got invited to the party in the movie of the same name) to this evening of our city's venerable citizenry's bestowing richly deserved accolades on one of Canada's champions of human rights and supremacy of the rule of law.
The event itself was the 5th annual ORT Hero's Dinner. ORT is a charitable organization that provides educational opportunities for deserving young people in a number of countries in Europe, Latin America and throughout the world. (In case you're curious, ORT is an acronym of the Russian words for this 140 year old charity's name. No one I could find at the dinner, including the organization's Canadian head, seemed to be able to pronounce, much less translate what those words actually mean. Greenspan told me that George Jonas wrote it out phonetically for him to say, but he still couldn't quite get it.)
Greenspan made it clear that he does not see himself as a hero, and in a evening billed as "Law and Laughter," his partner Todd White hilariously pointed out that Eddie is as far from a superhero as a person could get. Unless you consider a hero to be someone who has tirelessly worked to ensure that the death penalty is not restored in Canada, who has provided critical legal assistance to those who couldn't afford it without fanfare, who has been an invaluable source of education to generations of law students, and who has made great personal and financial contributions to a number of charities. So that's the kind of hero Eddie Greenspan is.
Greenspan's lovely and witty daughter Juliana spoke, and then, a man who Greenspan considers a genuine hero was one of the main presenters last night. The renowned American criminal attorney F. Lee Bailey. Bailey, who is now in his 80's, was sharp, funny and looked in fantastic shape. He told a few amusing anecdotes including one where he allegedly hypnotised a young Eddie Greenspan.
The best part of the evening, for me, was to hear first-hand what I've been told by others who know Greenspan personally; that's he's amazingly funny.
Greenspan regaled the audience with a greatest hits parade of funniest comments heard in court during his legthy career. My consumption of whiskey throughout the evening has rendered me unable to recount them all, but some included:
Opposing Counsel: "What was the distance between the cars at the time of collision?"
Greenspan: "Your honour, my client couldn't possibly be guilty of forgery, he's semi-literate and barely capable of writing his own name." Judge: "It's not his own name he stands accused of writing"
Opposing Counsel: "You say you have memory problems and frequently forget things." Witness: "Yes."
Opposing Counsel: "Can you provide an example of something you've forgotten?" Witness: "No."
Witness: "My husband's a liar and untrustworthy. He's been unfaithful to me."
Greenspan: "What makes you thnk that?"
Witness: "For one thing, I'm pretty sure he's not the father of my children."
One of Eddie's funniest lines from the night was his recounting of asking his beloved wife Suzy if, when they first got married, she would have imagined, in her wildest dreams that Eddie would receive this type of honour. Eddie said that Suzy replied, "Eddie, you're never in my wildest dreams."
It was a fun evening filled with laughs and weirdness.
The weirdness came when I and a few friends went from The Four Seasons, where the ORT dinner was held, over to the bar at One Hazelton, the tony new(ish) hotel in Yorkville.
I'll save that part of the story for part 2.