Edward Greenspan, one of Canada’s most prominent criminal lawyers, was remembered Wednesday as a force to be reckoned by many in the legal community who were mourning his death.
Greenspan’s law firm, Greenspan Partners LLP, confirmed his death. He was 70.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our senior partner, friend and father Eddie Greenspan,” the firm said on Twitter.
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our senior partner, friend and father Eddie Greenspan. Funeral details will follow.
— Greenspan Partners (@GreenspanLLP) December 24, 2014
Greenspan represented a number of high-profile clients over his 44-year career, including one-time media baron Conrad Black, former theatre mogul Garth Drabinsky and German financier Karlheinz Schreiber.
Few details were immediately available on the circumstances of Greenspan’s death.
News of his death drew swift reaction from a number of individuals in the legal community, with many calling Greenspan one of the legal profession’s best.
“In any courtroom that Eddie Greenspan stood, no matter who else was there…Eddie Greenspan was the biggest personality in that room,” said Toronto criminal lawyer Edward Prutschi, who worked with Greenspan on occasion.
“I was one of hundreds, maybe more, law students who grew up idolizing Eddie, reading his book, skipping class at every opportunity to watch him cross-examine and just always hoping to be a fraction as good as he was.”
Prutschi asked Greenspan once if he ever planned to retire and recalled the veteran lawyer’s answer.
“He responded to me completely deadpan, competently serious, that his hope was to die in a courtroom immediately after hearing a jury return with the words ‘not guilty,'” Prutschi said. “That just expresses the all-consuming passion that he had for criminal law.”
Greenspan, who was once the vice-president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, was also known for his opposition to capital punishment.
He suspended his practice for a few months in the late 80s to campaign against a motion to reinstate the death penalty in Canada. He was also a part of a 2001 case involving two men in which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the death penalty to be unconstitutional.
In one of his last public appearances in late November, Greenspan discussed a murder case he had lost 30 years ago but which still haunted him.
The “perplexing” case, which was the subject of a chapter of a book to which he had contributed, involved “Tom James,” whom a jury convicted, a frail Greenspan told a reading in Toronto.
Even the prosecution believed Greenspan had shown at trial that the man had acted in self-defence, the lawyer said, but the jury didn’t believe it.
“Even a seemingly perfect trial can lead to the conviction of a perfectly innocent man,” he told the audience of mostly lawyers.
The native of Niagara Falls earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto in 1965 and graduated from law school in 1968. He was called to the Bar in Ontario in 1970.
Greenspan received a number of honours over the course of his career, including the Law Society Medal, the top honour awarded by the Law Society of Upper Canada, which was bestowed upon him in 2013.
Greenspan’s memorial will be held by Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel in Toronto.