Hey, at least it beats sitting through QP these days: Liveblogging the O'Brien trial - again. - Macleans.ca

Hey, at least it beats sitting through QP these days: Liveblogging the O’Brien trial — again.

by

That’s right, ITQ will be back in Courtroom 36 for what may be the last full day of testimony in Ottawa’s very own Trial Of The Half-Decade At The Very Least, lured off the Hill for the day by what could be her last chance ever to liveblog legendary Conservative fixer, O’Brien crony and recently self-outed voice of sanity on drug policy John Reynolds.

Hey, we showed up for Dave Penner — why stop now, just when we’re getting to the good part?

A wee bit of background, for those not following every labyrinthine twist and turn in the case: According to Terry Kilrea, it was Reynolds who told O’Brien to tell John Baird — yes, I think we’re up to fourth hand hearsay at this point, which should give you some idea of how confusing the testimony can get at times —  that Kilrea was “in the queue”  for a federal appointment. Reynolds, however, has said he has no recollection of that conversation. In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen earlier this year, he described the case against his mayoral buddy as “hogwash”.

Also on the stand today: Conservative pollster Dmitri Pantazopoulos, who was allegedly was one of the lead emissaries between the O’Brien and Kilrea camps, armed with polling numbers that suggested he had no chance of winning the race; according to Kilrea, he also told him he was aware of the parole board offer, but warned that it was “too hot to handle” during the election. Pantazopolous, for his part, has vociferously denied Kilrea’s claims and will likely do so again when he takes the stand today.

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.

The show starts at 10am, so check back then for full liveblogging coverage.

9:43:33 AM
Good morning, fans of truth, justice and internecine local Conservative chaos! ITQ is back in her backrow seat in Courtroom 36, which is filling up fast. The mayor isn’t here yet — or should he be referred to as “The Accused” for the duration of the trial? — but his perennially cheery media handler Barry McLoughlin is on the scene, as is the usual contingent of reporters — some strictly city by persuasion, others – like me and Colleague McGregor – refugees from the Hill. Actually, now that I look around, there’s a fairly sizeable press gallery presence. CTV’s Rosie Thompson is back for the day — we’ve already high-fived each other over the imminent return of the Oliphant show, which gets back underway tomorrow — as is Richard Cleroux. And just as I was typing that up, the mayor slipped in — well, sauntered, really; a little more swing and he’ll hit the swagger threshold. I wonder how he thinks it’s going so far?

9:53:12 AM
Did I mention that the crown – Scott Hutchinson – appears to be sporting the most earnestly-framed glasses he could find in order to look like a veteran,world-weary lawyer?

9:57:26 AM
And – here we go — Dimitri Pantazopolous is on the stand, looking — actually, kind of like he doesn’t quite believe this is happening to him.

He’s sworn in, and spells his name – thanks, Dimitri, but I think I’m going first name on second and further references – and tells the court that he’s brought along a copy of his previous statements to police, as well as the Kilrea affidavit and a few other documents.

10:00:45 AM
After an initial bit of almost awkwardness – turns out Dimitri declined to be interviewed by the Crown before his appearance – he gives a brief rundown of his polling company, Praxicus, which, he readily acknowledges, leans towards the Conservative side of the political spectrum; he also ran the numbers for the pre-merger Alliance. Anyway, he first met O’Brien when he was a student, and after more background-establishing, the line of questioning glides inexorably towards those heady days of July 2006, and the looming mayoral campaign. (Apparently, there was also lunch at the Rideau Club, but that seems to have mostly involved a discussion about health care policy.) He doesn’t like the term “recruited” — he’s not going to take the fall for bringing O’Brien into the race, no sir – but in any case, on July 10th or 11th, O’Brien contacted him to do a survey on his local electoral prospects. And thus he did, and the results were — not overly encouraging. Kilrea’s vote, Dimitri recalls, was largely right-of-centre, and seemed to be made up of people who couldn’t bring themselves to support anyone else, while O’Brien had a more centre-right attraction.

10:08:28 AM
After getting the numbers, Dimitri says that they decided to “share” the reslts with Kilrea, to show him that his campaign “had no legs”; eventually, a lunch was arranged – which leads to a bizarre-but-possibly-relevant tangent on the *time* when that lunch took place. Dimitri thinks that it was at noon – “because that’s when I eat lunch, sir”, but eventually acknowledges that he has no record of exactly when the two sat down to eat. “Tell me about the lunch,” the Crown orders him. Oh, it was magical — it was at the Sheraton (of course it was at the Sheraton; I think we’ve now successfully filled in an entire Ottawa Political Eatery bingo card), at the very table where Jean Chretien had been spotted the week before. “Did you sit in the same chair,” wonders Hutchinson. In fact, he did.

Anyway, lunch lasted about an hour, and the two chatted about various things — Kilrea, it transpires, is married to a woman of Greek descent — before moving on to the unpleasant matter of legs, and the lack thereof in his campaign. There was, however, “no briefcase full of data”, as per Dimitri – contrary to Kilrea’s claim. There were polling results and that sort of thing, but that was it.

10:14:49 AM
So, what did Dimitri tell him about the numbers? That he was “trailing in the race”, the pollster recalls – and that he had no room to grow, since his support was largely “negative”. Eventually, Kilrea revealed that he was in debt – campaign debt, that is – to the tune of $30,000.

Okay, *now* we’re getting to the nub: Did the possibility of a parole board appointment come up? Yes, it did, Dimitri says — in the context of how Kilrea, apparently, felt that his “true calling” wasn’t actually mayordom, but “something in law enforcement”. The wording, Dimitri recalls, was a bit odd; Kilrea seemed to think he — Dimitri — was acting as an official representative of O’Brien, and was using cumbersome, legalistic wording, although disappointingly, he can’t actually give an example by quoting something he said, even when the Crown asks him for one.

Dimitri, incidentally, does not seem to enjoy being on the receiving end of the steady stream of polite, yet relentless, questioning coming from the Crown.

Anyway, from the way Kilrea was talking about it, Dimitri got the sense that he saw this – the possible appointment – as a sort of quid pro quo, and he made it clear that wasn’t on.

10:22:02 AM
“I’m sure the issue of the job arose more than once during the conversation,” Dimitri says — to which he suggested that Kilrea talk to people he “trusted” – like, say, John Baird – about whether he should stay in the race.

When he reported the details of the meeting to O’Brien, he recalls, the eventual mayor told him they didn’t need Kilrea anyway, and agreed that the discussion of the parole board appointment — which Dimitri refers to as “the request” was improper. And that, it seems, was that.

Oh, and yes, Dimitri paid for lunch, by the way – by Visa. I wonder if they had the buffet?

10:26:14 AM
“Do you know a man named John Reynolds,” Hutchinson asks. Oh, really, who *doesn’t*? Anyway, Dimitri tells him he does – of course – as a former MP and co-chair of the 2006 election.

That’s it for the main examination. Now – on to the cross!

10:28:16 AM
And — here’s Edelson! Who goes through the basics first — when, exactly, he first met with police, that sort of thing — and then directs Dimitri to the transcript of his interview; specifically, the fact that the *first* thing he pointed out was that the time frames – in the affidavit, I guess – were “kind of weird”, since it had the meeting at the Sheraton the day after the initial phone call, which wouldn’t make sense, because by that point – July 12 – he wouldn’t have completed his polling, not to mention the fact that his credit card bill confirmed that it was on July 18th.

Also, O’Brien’s name didn’t appear on any of the datasheets that Dimitri showed him, and he wouldn’t have told Kilrea that he was “sitting” at 20ish percent. Finally, he doesn’t even *own* a briefcase, does he? He does not. Really? Huh.

10:34:32 AM
In response to an open-ender from Edelson, Dimitri gives us a crash course on polling — specifically, figuring out the various levels of support for candidates — and points out that both Alex Munter and Bob Chiarelli were in the high 20s, while Kilrea was languishing at around 15% — and half of *that* was due to general dissatisfaction with the other options. “Roughly half his vote was likely to be taken away,” Dimitri recalls — just as soon as a plausible alternative showed itself, and when those votes started to hemorraghe, he’d just keep bleeding until he was exsanguinated completely. Electorally speaking, that is, although goodness knows this story could use a vampire or two.

10:47:13 AM
More downdrilling into those poll results — nobody liked Chiarelli, but Munter, although “a different sort of cat”, may have had more popular support, but was “out of synch” on the issues — unlike O’Brien, who had a more right-wing approach – “fighting to keep taxes down”, and “more recalcitrant on crime”, which — I don’t think that word means what he thinks, although it’s surprisingly appropos, given the context.

Meanwhile, Kilrea was *also* a “law and order” type, but he couldn’t win, plus he had that campaign debt that Dimitri hadn’t been aware of until he brought it up.

10:51:58 AM
More questions from Edelson on the tribulations of Terry Kilrea – not only was in debt, but he was worried about his job – and, once again, about how, as per Kilrea, becoming mayor wasn’t his “ultimate calling”. Dimitri tells the court that he wouldn’t necessarily have assumed that he was proposing something untoward when he brought up the offer of an appointment – he might simply not have realized the implications – but Edelson plunges onward, or rather backward, reading from Dimitri’s previous statement, suggesting that it was Kilrea who seemed to be tying the parole board to his possible departure from the race.

10:53:58 AM
Ahh, the famous “too hot to handle” line, which – disappointingly, but not really surprisingly – Dimitri categorically denies ever having uttered: “The words ‘too hot to handle’ are not in my lexicon, sir,” he assures Edelson, almost demurely.

Oh, and when he heard that Kilrea had told the police that the date of the Sheraton lunch was July 12th, he checked the creation dates of various relevant computer files, which confirmed that it was simply incorrect. There seems to be an undercurrent of anti-O’Brien police conspiracy theorizing in Edelson’s line of questioning – and his tone, as well as his exaggerated bafflement over why the police wouldn’t have already figured out that the dates were off. He then makes an enormous deal over the fact that Dimitri was being taped – by a digital recording device! – although ITQ can’t figure out exactly why that’s relevant.

11:01:39 AM
One of my colleagues just pointed out that Vic Toews is in the house! He’s sitting in the gallery — not in the O’Brien encampment, but the public section — and is watching intently.

Meanwhile, Edelson managed to discombobulate the witness by wondering if he thought he was being ‘set up’ – Dimitri initially thinks – as do the rest of us – that he means by the police, but it turns out he’s talking about Kilrea. Dimitri looks slightly less uncomfortable, but still doesn’t seem to be ready to accuse the former candidate of – would it be entrapment? Inducement? What’s the proper term for what Edelson is sidling around, as far as Kilrea’s possible intent?

11:05:21 AM
And now, a brief return to the exciting world of pollingology, and “wedge politics” – which Dimitri mentioned in the interview, and which he explains in as layman-y terms as possible.

You know, Edelson seems to jump around a lot in his questioning — which I suspect is a very deliberate tactic, although really, this is as friendly a witness as he could hope for, as far as his client’s version of events.

11:10:52 AM
Dimitri notes that he didn’t really expect Kilrea to take *his* advice on leaving the race — they barely knew each other, after all – which is why he suggested that he talk to Baird, who really does seem to have been the local godfather, as far as hopeful (or, in this case, about to have all hope ripped away) Tories.

Edelson points out that the email from Kilrea to Baird, in which the former confessed that he had a “big decision” to make, and invited the latter to coffee, does seem to “comport” with the advice Dimitri gave Kilrea.

11:14:35 AM
Dimitri notes that Kilrea told him all about an upcoming fundraiser that Baird had promised to attend, and definitely gave him impression that the minister was a “strong supporter” of his campaign.

Dear Rustyb,
Really? *Really*? Leaving aside from anything else that may have happened since those lazy, crazy days of July 2006, what on *earth* were you thinking?

Puzzledly yours,

ITQ

11:16:40 AM
More inerview-transcript-reading — at one point, Dimitri told the cops that Kilrea had either “grossly interpreted” what he had said at that meeting, or was deliberately misrepresenting him — and then, somewhat abruptly, Edelson rests.

11:19:21 AM
More about those polls – just a little though, as luck would have it – and the judge adjourns the court for the morning break.

See you in twenty minutes!

Re-exam on!

11:24:24 AM
Okay, so apparently that *wasn’t* Vic Toews. Oh well. On the plus side, if we ever need one, we have a spare!

11:32:08 AM
We’re still not back, but I just had to mention this: One thing that never fails to make me do a double take is seeing all these robed figures wandering the halls during the break. Every single time, my first reaction is “Wait, what’s [Peter Milliken/Andrew Scheer/Royal Galipeau, depending on the size and shape] doing here?” It’s very disconcerting.

11:37:51 AM
By the way, I have no idea if we’re going to move straight to John Reynolds when court is back in session, or if we’ll break for lunch.

11:41:00 AM
Well, that settles *that*, I guess — the one and only Honourable is, as I type this, is sitting in the docket; he looks relatively unflustered, although uncharacteristically pensive. The way the courtroom is set up, with no elevation at the front, he also looks oddly tiny, particularly given his larger-than-life reputation. If ITQ ever had cause to take the stand, she’d probably be nothing more than a tuft of blonde hair behind the microphone.

It’s interesting to eavesdrop on the spectators — it seems there really is a small but dependable crew of courtjunkies, mostly retirees who migrate from trial to trial, in search of the best entertainment.

11:47:24 AM
And we’re back! Hutchinson introduces the witness – I didn’t catch whether he called him “honourable” or not – and then asks a variant of his usual opening question, which even he admits is “a bit of an understatement”: Has he ever been involved in politics? And how.

Reynolds gives a brief recap of his parliamentary history – Reform, Canadian Alliance, Conservative – as well as his past life as a BC MLA – and notes that he last held office in January 2006.

11:49:33 AM
On that note, Reynolds notes that he had told the current prime minister – who was, of course, leader of the opposition at the time – that he wouldn’t be running again, which is when Stephen Harper asked him to run the 2006 campaign. He tells the court that he was “too active” to be involved in the subsequent campaign, but he still keeps in touch with the PM – in fact, he saw him just three weeks ago when he was in town – and he knows John Baird well; he convinced him to leave provincial politics for the wild and wooly world of Ottawa.

He *also* knows Larry O’Brien – he was impressed with Calian, and got to know him that way – and has even stayed with him when visiting Ottawa, likely sometime in 2006.

11:52:38 AM
Reynolds acknowledges that he spoke with O’Brien at the possibility of running for politics – “I said, ‘Why would you want to do that?” he jokes, which elicits much chuckling from the O’Brien side of the room, and reveals that he actually tried to get him to run federally for the Conservatives. (Man, y’all dodged a bullet there, guys.)

Prior to the events that led to this case, however, he didn’t know Terry Kilrea.

11:54:24 AM
Nub time: Does Reynolds recall any Kilrea-related conversation with O’Brien in 2006? No, he doesn’t – it wasn’t til the story broke that he called him up to ask why *his* name was coming up with regard to the alleged offer, since he didn’t remember talking about it at all. Nor, it transpires, does he recall talking about the parole board appointment – although he estimates that “thousands” of people have asked him about appointments, but there’s a process, and it all hinges on one person: Dave Penner. In this case, there was no resume sent in.

11:56:48 AM
Anyway, back to that conversation with O’Brien — after the story broke, that is — during which the now-duly elected mayor told him that he *may* have asked what the process was, but he – Reynolds – doesn’t remember any of it.

Oh, and he *has* recommended people for appointments, but only to Dave Penner — never John Baird.

That’s it for the Crown, which means it’s Edelson Time!

We’re going to be out of here by 1pm at this rate.

11:58:39 AM
Edelson wants to go over the transcript of his interview — not sure if it’s with the police, or the Crown — and notes that, at the time that all this was going on — 2006– he had no “official” capacity in which to act; he was still doing the occasional bit of spokesman duty, but it was just leftover business from his work on the campaign. If he *had* tried to push for an appointment, he says, “that person would never get a job” — there was a system in place, and that was that.

By this point, he’d also gone into business for himself in the private sector, and was getting at least a hundred berry messages a day.

12:01:08 PM
Edelson notes that, at the time, according to Kilrea, Reynolds “didn’t know [him] from Adam”, with which the witness heartily concurs.

And — really, that’s it? Wow, that was so much shorter than I expected — oh, and it seems that this may wrap up the case for the Crown, although there’s a bit of unfinished business related to Sgt. Mason.

(Reynolds patted the Toews-alike on the shoulder as he was leaving. I wonder if he made the same mistake as ITQ?)

12:04:29 PM
Edelson and Hutchinson are vying for the judge’s affections — actually, it sounds like they’re willing to stipulate, although Edelson wants that to be done “without prejudice”, thus demonstrating one of the few instances in which the phrase can legitimately be used.

There’s still the defence to go, of course — still no word on whether O’Brien will take the stand, although nobody seems to think that’s very likely — and Edelson’s co-counsel tells the judge that he plans to introduce a directed verdict motion that is “a bit unique”; even if the Crown *did* prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the court couldn’t convict on *both* counts. It seems to have something to do with the wording of the respective statutes; the Supreme and Ontario courts have apparently made it “crystal clear” that the concept of “reward”, as used in the Code, means a tangible profit, and not a “political advantage”, which would be the case here. If the judge agrees, that would “put an end to the prosecution”, even if the Crown *had* been able to prove its case.

Huh. Was that expected?

12:10:13 PM
Apparently, if the term “reward” isn’t interpreted literally, it would lead to an “absurd, preposterous result” — and the defence has an expert witness who will testify to that effect, and that “since the inception of our democracy”, we’ve seen the use of political appointments to various ends, and it is “inconceivable” that Parliament intended to capture these practices — which are the “stock and trade” of politics — under the law.

So — the defence is going to argue that patronage appointments are a noble, and essential, part of democracy? I mean, not that I’m disagreeing, but I’m not sure if anyone was expecting that. (Of course, it’s possible that they were, and I’m just out of the loop.) It also almost sounds as though they’re this close to implicitly admitting that a discussion over possible appointments took place.

I have to say, though, it makes me a lot more curious to see how they’ll make their case. I may just have to come back.

12:16:57 PM
Alright, so Edelson is proposing to adjourn til next Monday, I think, at which point he’ll bring in his surprise expert witness. (Who could it be? N.E.D. Franks? Donald Savoie? Guy Giorno? The mind boggles.)

Also, the judge’s response suggests that this is at least a little bit of a surprise; he refers to the fact that the Crown likely isn’t prepared to argue against this motion, although it might have been suspected.

“It would be pointless” Edelson – or maybe the deputy Edelson; you can’t see their faces, and everyone looks the same in a robe – for Parliament to legislate on an argument between two parties on what position Larry or Moe might get in the event that they fall into power. I dunno, they’ve certainly passed sillier laws.

Hutchinson grumbles that he hasn’t seen any of these motions — he doesn’t want to lose time, but he also doesn’t want to be put at a disadvantage. Why not take the lunch break, and the other side “can serve me with whatever they want to serve me” – he’ll hire a tractor trailer if he has to – and we’ll go from there.

The judge agrees — and we break til 2:15. Oh, and you better believe I’ll be back. [Part two is here.]