The verdict: charges dismissed

Liveblog: Larry O’Brien is not guilty and can stay on as mayor

Larry O'Brien It’s all been leading up to this, so check back at 10am for full liveblogging coverage as the judge delivers his verdict in Ottawa’s municipal political trial of the century so far.

For more on the trial, check out the Ottawa Citizen and CBC Ottawa, and be sure to follow the obrientrial twitter feed for fellow Hot Room denizen Glen McGregor’s minute-by-minute bulletins.

9:29:10 AM
Greetings, fellow O’Brienistas! ITQ is outside the court house with a hundred or so of her closest media colleagues, waiting for the accused to make his entrance. We don’t know if it will be a *grand* entrance, mind you — he could, I suppose, give the throng of camera crews the slip and sneak in by the back door, but this is, after all, the mayor who brought swagger to our sedate city, so we’re hoping for a pre-verdict Law and Order-style show on the steps. Which, incidentally, we don’t actually have in front of the Ottawa court house — steps, that is. Clearly, an oversight by the architect.

ITQ is torn, in fact, between staying out here, where the action may or may not be for a second or two, depending on how Team O’Brien wants to frame the day, and heading inside to ensure she’s got a spot inside the courtroom, and isn’t relegated to the overflow room. Decisions, decisions.

9:36:21 AM
Well, judging from the line currently snaking down the hallway, past the elevator and about to extend down the stairs, ITQ’s dreams of being able to watch the back of the mayor’s head as the verdict is delivered are almost certainly going to go unfulfilled. At this point, I’ll be *lucky* to get a spot in the overflow room, or even the over-overflow room.

9:40:17 AM

We’re not in our usual courtroom either, I should note — we’re one down, in 37. I’m not sure if it’s that much larger than the usual holding pen. We’ll see.

9:43:34 AM
Wow. This is a *much* fancier courtroom — not only is it easily twice the size, but it’s far more lavishly decorated. There are chandeliers, even!

Meanwhile, the journalistic contingent is already agrumble with growing panic over the somewhat lackadaisical wifi and BlackBerry signals, and there are at least a half dozen courthouse staffers directing the human traffic of reporters, court watchers and O’Brien wellwishers as the room slowly fills up.

9:51:45 AM
Oh, and in case y’all were wondering, it turns out that there *was* reserved seating for the media; we’re now all piled akimbo in the first three rows on the left, right beside the section for the mayor’s friends and family. He’s here too, looking as inscrutable as always, at least from the brief glimpse I caught of his profile as he cheek-kissed an unidentified supporter. It’s so quiet in here, at this precise, and pregnant with anticipatory adrenalin moment that it’s downright eerie.

10:00:13 AM
Okay, now ITQ has joined the grumble, and apologizes in advance for any delay. That said, the judge has taken his chair, and has launched directly into his verdict — no fuss, no muss. First, though, he’d like to remind us that it is the rule of reasonable doubt that must apply when judging credibility of competing — or contradictory — witnesses. He notes that the crown contends that this is *not* a he said/he said case — although the defence disputes this, of course.

10:02:47 AM
Onto the decision, I think — but not without some background. Can’t blame Cunningham for wanting to take his time in delivering his final judgment. He – the judge, that is – recaps the July 12th meeting between O’Brien and Terry Kilrea, which primarily consisted, in his view, of each man telling the other how much support he had within the local Conservative community. He – the judge – accepts that there was some discussion of what was involved in a mayoral campaign — “big swinging dicks,” he notes, using O’Brien’s “rather crude” description. He also points to Kilrea’s confusion over the date of the meeting, which, to him, provides “an early warning” as to the crown’s star witness’s confusion over past events.

10:06:30 AM
There was “some discussion of Kilrea’s finances” at this meeting, Cunningham notes – his campaign debt-in-the-making, most noteably. He – the judge – has no trouble believing that Kilrea likely told O’Brien that he was likely to be “out” as much as $20,000, and he also has no trouble believing that O’Brien might have hinted that if Kilrea were to withdraw, he – O’Brien – would see if “his team” could help him recover. Of course, *that* exchange, he reminds us, forms no part of the charges before the mayor: it all comes down to the discussion over the parole board appointment.

10:19:33 AM
Okay, my apologies to all, once again — the signal pretty much died on the spot as soon as the judge began to read his ruling, and I’ve not been able to update since then. He’s still reading — the judge, that is — and going over the competing versions of events provided by the various witnesses, but it sounds as though he’s leading up to a not guilty on all counts. Then agan, I’ve been wildly offbase in trying to discern this judge’s thinking in the past, but he seems to be finding a lot of the crown’s evidence distinctly wanting, and he also appears to believe the “salient part” of O’Brien’s affidavit on crucial questions, such as the conversation with John Reynolds, and says that he *believes* O’Brien when he — O’Brien — began to regret “going down that path” by suggesting that Kilrea meet with Baird. “It might constitute poor judgment,” he notes, but not, he seems to be suggesting, a crime.

No, that’s not it. We haven’t gotten to the actual *verdict* yet, although we seem to be getting closer, since the judge has now veered back to the July 12th meeting, and specifically, Kilrea’s claim that there was a “Liberal conspiract” arrayed against him after receiving what was actually a fairly innocuous letter from the Attorney General.

“Mr. Kilrea has proved to be a master of manipulating the media,” he observes, “and keeping his name in the news.” This, he suggests, has not done much to enhance his credibility.

10:27:22 AM
Wow, this judge is just going to *town* on Kilrea, although he does suggest that he may be “well-meaning” — but not, he concludes, “a particularly reliable witness.” If I were the crown, I would have a sick feeling in my stomach right about now, unless we’re coming up to the twist – L&O style.

The differing drafts of Kilrea’s affidavit for the Ottawa Citizen seem to have weighed heavily on the judge’s assessment of Kilrea’s command of the facts — or his memory, at least — he keeps going back to critical changes in the wording. He notes that the Crown insists that this is just the usual drafting process, but seems distinctly unconvinced.

The silent consensus amongst the media, by the way, is that the mayor is about to be acquitted.

10:32:58 AM
I can’t tell whether the mayor is smiling or not, but his posture definitely seems more relaxed — or maybe that’s just how it looks from here.

10:33:58 AM
Okay, back to the judge, who now seems to be moving from Kilrea’s testimony to that of the “supporting cast” provided by the crown, starting with Dimitri Pantazopolous — ? Yes, according to Colleague McGregor, that’s the correct spelling, but in any case, you know who I mean: Pollster Dimitri. He – the judge – notes that as per the pollster, it was Kilrea who raised the subject of a possible federal appointment, only to be told that any such “quid pro quo” would be inappropriate. It sounds like, once again, when offered the choice between believing Kilrea, or pretty much anyone else, the judge has decided to go with the other witness. “I have no doubt Kilrea brought up the subject of the national parole board,” he notes.

At the time, he reminds us, Kilrea was engaged in what he thought was an epic battle with the Ontario government, and the aforementioned Liberal conspiracy, and was “still overreacting” to the letter from the Attorney General.

10:39:32 AM
Add John Baird to the list of witnesses that the judge finds believable, which, by ITQ’s count, so far encompasses pretty much every witness *except* Terry Kilrea. Pantazopolous, meanwhile, he found to be a “forthright” witness and an “experienced political operative”, which is why he *also* believes his version of his meeting with Kilrea. He also doesn’t have any problem believing that John Reynolds couldn’t specifically recall having that conversation with O’Brien, what with all the calls and emails he was getting at the time. Oh, and as for Lisa MacLeod – the MPP – it sounds as though the judge believed the defence when they suggested that she may have been affected by her travel back and forth between Ottawa and Queen’s Park, as well as her father’s sickness. It’s not that he seems to think she was deliberately lying, but that she just wasn’t sure what she had heard.

10:46:56 AM
Do all verdicts take this long to deliver? Oh, and the judge “cannot take MacLeod’s testimony” as corroboration of Kilrea’s claim, since “through no fault of her own”, she appeared to have an “imprecise” recollection of events.

10:48:03 AM
Three more witnesses: John Light, Greg Strong and John Bennett, who were – as were all previous witnesses – put forward by the Crown. Light, a former staffer for Pierre Poilievre — the judge can’t quite pronounce it either, by the way — told the court that he was asked to contact Greg Strong, and told him that he ‘couldn’t do anything’ if Terry Kilrea was still in the race, but that Strong told *him* that ‘the party’ was “working on something” — an appointment of some sort, presumably. “I have no doubt that Mr. Light, at the relevant time, was a strong supporter of Mr. Kilrea,” he notes, as evinced by emails from that time between Light and Tierney — but, if I just understood him correctly, that support actually “colours” his – the judge’s, that is – testimony, at least insofar as it can inform him of what was going on.

10:53:26 AM
“Coincidental trilogy” is how Cunningham describes the Light/Strong/Bennett contingent, a phrase of which ITQ approves highly. Oh, and he doesn’t think their respective and collective testimony proved whatever it was that the Crown was hoping that it would.

I just realized that I can see Barry McLoughlin from here. At the moment, he looks like … basically, the opposite of how Robin Sears looked after the worst day during  Mulroney Week at Oliphant.

Finally, there was Deputy Chief O’Sullivan, also called by the Crown, but who, as was the case with virtually every other witness, did more to bolster the case of the defence. That was kind of a trend, wasn’t it?

11:00:46 AM
Okay, I think he – the judge – is heading into his final rhetorical lap; he notes that O’Brien was aware “from very early on” that any “quid pro quo” would be illegal, although he did, indeed, want him to drop out of the race. While he’s not sure if he *believes* O’Brien on what took place during the July 12th meeting, he is “unable to conclude that he *disbelieves* him”, and the same goes for the Tim Horton’s meeting.

11:03:42 AM
Soon — the verdict — but first, a few words on the media. Man, it’s really been that kind of week, hasn’t it? Cunningham notes that the “circumstances” behind the creation of the affidavit are “troubling” — from the emails leaked to Ottawa Citizen reporter Gary Dimmock, most likely by Kilrea, to the leaking of the affidavit itself to a local labour leader and known rabblerouser.

11:05:59 AM
Okay, here we go — now we’re getting to the nub, I think. There is no evidence that O’Brien actually *had* influence with the government, Cunningham notes, which takes care of that charge, and leaves us with the allegation that O’Brien *pretended* to have influence. If that was the case, the judge notes, why would he advise Kilrea to meet with Baird, when he – O’Brien – knew very well that Kilrea knew the man better than he did? While he may have ‘suspicions’ about what was discussed, the crown has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. “He was walking a fine line,” Cunningham notes.

Both charges, as such, are dismissed — and cue the applause from Team O’Brien. Seriously. I guess that’s traditional in court, huh?

11:12:51 AM
We were told that the mayor – which I guess we can officially call him again, huh? – would scrum after the verdict, so we’re all sort of loitering in the courtroom, waiting for him to head for the door, which he’ll do as soon as he makes it through the impromptu receiving line that has assembled in the aisle.

Ohh, and *now* they’re handing out copies of the verdict. Could’ve used that a half hour ago, guys. (I know, I know; then we wouldn’t stay to hear the *reasoning*.)

11:27:17 AM
Finally, someone — Michael Edelson, to be precise — gives us an update: they — the O’Briens, that is — are just “taking a moment”, and the whole gang will head outside “within the half hour” for a celebratory scrum.
So — I guess I’ll check back with y’all then. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves in the meantime.

11:46:00 AM
Greetings from the front of the courthouse, where the mood is downright festive — not only amongst the O’Brienistas, who are, not surprisingly, giddy with delight, but also the media, simply because we’re outside, and it’s sunny, and we have a scrum to cover. We are, at heart, an easy people to please. Much chattering back and forth about the verdict, and the occasional improumptu interview with various city councillors who have shown up, albeit after the fact, to praise the mayor and not bury him. We’re sort of blocking the entrance, tho, which makes me worry that we may inadvertently be interfering with all the *other* cases going on today.

11:54:35 AM
Okay, I think he’s about to come out. Really, I’m not sure what he’s going to say, other than that he’s happy, he’s relieved and he’s looking forward to getting back to work. As mayor. Which he is again, incidentally, in case we missed that part.

And there’s Barry McLoughlin and Michael Edelson, and an ensuing chorus of “microphone! Microphone” — followed by the mayor, who – once again – gets a round of applause from the non-media contingent outside.

11:57:35 AM
The mayor takes the mic, and describes this as an “emotional rollercoaster” — a difficult two years for him, his wife, his children, the people of Ottawa, etc. etc — but he’s glad that he went through it, since he can now look his “boys” in the eye and tell them their family name has been — okay, missed that. Unbesmirched? Anyway, when there is a “blizzard of attacks” on you as an individual, it’s difficult, but he believes the judge’s ruling provided a “clear insight” into what happened — and he’s ready to get back to work. “We love you, Larry!” Someone yells from the back. “The judge said you walked a ‘fine line’,” one reporter points out. “What fine line did you walk?” No answer, and the mayor starts to drift away, at first slowly, and then with remarkable haste as the question is repeated. “Will you answer our question?” Another reporter bellows after him. Pretty obviously not. And — is that it, or is he heading for the CFRA live booth, which is just off the lawn? No, he’s heading for his car, pursued by the iconic moving scrum. It isn’t enough to get him to reconsider, though — he gets in the back, and drives away.

And that, it seems, is that.

12:05:22 PM
Okay, that’s not quite that — Edelson is scrumming back at the door, and is just reiterating his client’s — and, presumably, his — satisfaction with the ruling. He reminds us that, over and over, the judge found in favour of O’Brien’s testimony — via the affidavit and police interview — over that of Terry Kilrea, and as such, he seems pretty much okay with his decision not to call him to the stand. Well, that’s easy to say now that he’s been acquitted, isn’t it? He also has kind words for his adversary, Brian Hutchinson, who he describes in laudatory terms, which – again, easier to say that now. I wonder if *he’ll* scrum. Actually, I wonder if the crown will appeal. Can they do that?

Yikes — Sorry about that, y’all — I just discovered that my last update, which concluded with the traditional ITQ liveblog signoff, didn’t make it. I hope that nobody has been patiently hitting refresh in hopes of further news from court, because soon afterwards, ITQ fled the scene of the not-a-crime. Hope y’all enjoyed the coverage, and again, I must apologize for the flaky updates; you can’t stop the signal, but you can certainly slow it down to a crawl with sufficiently wifi-hostile building design.




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