There is one thing that gets drilled into young lawyers’ brains; that is that your reputation is everything. It takes a lifetime to build and only minutes to destroy. It precedes you and follows you, opens and closes doors, and can make or break your career.
Judges and lawyers will often use the term “the administration of justice is in disrepute.” It means that the reputation of the justice system would be lowered. Typically the language is reserved for things that are unfair, unpalatable, or contrary to public policy. I believe that the arrest of Laura Liscio has brought the administration of justice into disrepute.
For those of you unfamiliar with the situation a brief primer: Ms. Liscio is a criminal defence lawyer with an excellent reputation. Last week she attended at the courthouse in Brampton. As is typical for criminal defence lawyers she brought her client a change of clothes to appear before the judge. It is standard for the accused to change out of their orange prison outfits and into regular clothing for court appearances. It is also standard that police search all items of clothing before they pass onto the accused. As a criminal defence lawyer Ms. Liscio would have gone through this process hundreds of times. On this particular day the police officer found marijuana in the back pocket of the prisoner’s pants. Ms. Liscio was subsequently arrested, in her court attire, and walked through the courthouse in front of the public and her fellow practitioners while handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. The lawyers who witnessed the arrest were shocked in the manner in which Ms. Liscio was arrested and several organizations have issued statements denouncing the manner in which she was arrested. The Toronto Lawyer’s Association’s statement is here.
The Peel Police immediately issued a statement that reported that she was not in her court attire. The Star’s article on the event is here.
Why is the bar so up in arms? Are they seeking special treatment for lawyers? Quite the contrary. As one lawyer pointed out in his blog, a police officer who shot nine bullets into a man (while captured on video) got to go home and wait for 24 days while his lawyer and the prosecutor worked out the terms of his release.
The real issue at stake here is the reputation of the justice system as a whole. Ms. Liscio is an officer of the court. She is a part of the criminal justice system; the part in fact that is charged with protecting our freedom. How symbolic is it that four police officers just dragged the person responsible for protecting our rights out in cuffs?
To make matters worse, the Police then issue a false statement with respect to the arrest. The lawyers do what they do and request the video footage. The Police then retract their initial statement, with the following apology:
Peel Regional Police sincerely regrets publishing the misinformation and the impact that it has had on members of the community, members of the media and Ms. Liscio.
Their most recent press release is here.
The problem now is that the Peel Police are refusing to apologize for the manner in which Ms. Liscio was arrested (They did apologize for the false press statement). They have no justification for humiliating Ms. Liscio and the entire criminal defence bar. The Chief’s ongoing refusal to issue a public apology with respect to the incident has senior defence counsel demanding an inquest into the matter. Both sides are stuck in their positions and there is now a conflict between the Brampton Police and the local criminal defence bar.
This does not bode well for the reputation of the administration of justice. It just doesn’t look good. It’s the kind of thing that shakes the public’s confidence in the ability of the police, the lawyers, and the judiciary to provide the public a fair process. It is the public, after all, that is footing the bill and they are the service recipient at the end of the day.
Where will it go from here? I would suspect that the Peel Police will bury their heads and hope this goes away. I would speculate that the Crown Prosecutor will have the charges withdrawn and this will quietly be put to bed, as it should. I must admit, however, that there is a part of me that wants to see a statement of claim issued. I want to see a Judge rip into the lawyer representing the Peel Police in a written and published civil judgment. There is a part of me that wants to see Ms. Liscio to get awarded $500,000 in damages for loss of reputation as a result of police misconduct. Why? Because it would teach the Peel Police that Brampton defence lawyers deserve respect. They are the soldiers on the ground protecting our Charter rights, after all.