Sunday, July 12, 2015

Is contributing to Maria Mitousis' rehabilation fund a legal conundrum?

Good Day Readers:

There has been some discussion recently among Winnipeg's legal community that contributing to Maria Mitousis' rehabilitation fund somehow constitutes a conflict.of interest. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The two events are not mutually exclusive meaning one can occur independently of the other. It's a very sad commentary on the state of Winnipeg's legal community when a letter had to be circulated seeking someone to represent Guido Amsel.

Next we learn there's a lawyer (unnamed) contemplating taking the case plus you have Martin Glazer saying he'd never turn down a case no matter what the accused had allegedly done. Has Mr. Amsel seen Mr. Glazer's comments and retained him? Will it be the unidentified lawyer or someone else? You'll have to wait until Thursday to find out.
Martin Glazer

At times like this you're reminded of the Vince Li case - you couldn't find a crime more horrific than that yet he was able to find an attorney (Alan Libman).

An extreme scenario

Suppose the two possibilities noted above do not come to fruition for whatever reason(s) and no other local or out of province lawyer steps forward then what? Presumably the presiding judge would ask that Legal Aid appoint someone but what if Legal Aid came back with none of their members were prepared to take the case for fear of possible future retribution against them or their families?

The next course of action would to canvass Legal Aid in another province. Given the wide spread publicity this case has already received, is it possible Guido Amsel could be forced to self-represent. Then there's the additional complicating factor of language differences as noted by police during interviews - a translator would be required.

As already pointed out this is an extreme scenario highly unlikely to happen but could it?

Clare L. Pieuk
As many lawyers shy away from defending Amsel,an unnamed attorney is considering taking the case

Mike McIntyre
Thursday, July 9, 2015
You would think it would be a dream case for any defence lawyer: a high-profile accused who has already made headlines across the country and beyond, facing rarely seen charges, guaranteeing plenty of additional publicity that could lead to future clients knocking at your door.

But there hasn’t exactly been a stampede to the downtown Remand Centre this week of local litigatorAmsel, 49, has still yet to formally retain anyone willing to represent him on a string of charges related to a series of bombs sent through Canada Post to a variety of targets.

"He called us. But I didn’t even return it. I don’t want anything to do with it," a veteran lawyer told the Free Press this week.

And he’s hardly alone. Many others have quietly shared similar sentiments.

Police were quick to say they don’t believe the string of crimes represented an attack on the justice system. Yet that’s exactly how many who work in the tight-knit system have perceived it as, which is further complicating matters.

"I think he’s going to have trouble finding a lawyer in Manitoba to represent him," defence lawyer Jay Prober predicted earlier this week.

The alleged targets of Amsel’s rage include his ex-wife’s former lawyer, Maria Mitousis, who had a package explode on her last week and cause serious injuries, including the reported loss of a hand. Amsel’s former lawyer, Sarah McEachern, and his ex-wife, Iris Amsel, also had packages meant for them intercepted by police.

Mitousis has been a lawyer since 2006, which has included time at several locals firms. This has automatically reduced the pool of potential lawyers for Amsel, as many are citing a conflict of interest.

Then there is the ongoing fundraiser for Mitousis, which had netted more than $57,000 as of Thursday afternoon. Much of that money has come from legal colleagues who couldn’t donate to her cause only to act on behalf of the man accused of causing her injuries.

But beyond any conflicts, there are lawyers who want no part of Amsel.

"You can understand some of the hesitation. He’s charged with trying to kill lawyers. It would be something you would definitely want to speak to your staff about," another veteran defence attorney told the Free Press on Thursday.

Amsel has appeared in court several times this week without counsel. On Thursday, Legal Aid duty counsel Kent Strang told court there is currently a lawyer who is "considering" taking the case but needs at least a week to reflect.

"That would be great," Amsel said on closed-circuit video. The judge asked Strang who that lawyer is.

"I’d rather not say right now," Strang replied. It was a curious answer, but one that speaks to the sensitivity of the case.

Amsel’s next court appearance is set for July 16, where it is hoped the so-called mystery lawyer may step forward. The next step, once he’s found a lawyer, would likely be to decide whether to make a bail application.

Martin Glazer, a well-known Winnipeg defence attorney, said a notice was circulating among the legal community this week that was essentially a plea for someone to take the case.

"There was some talk about whether he should go out of province to find one," Glazer said Thursday. He hadn’t been contacted by Amsel but said he would never turn down a case because of what the client was accused of doing.

"Criminal lawyers defend unpopular people all the time. If we shied away from someone because of that, no one would ever get a lawyer," said Glazer. Representing a client’s interests is not the same as condoning what they are accused of doing, he said.

The cardinal principle is that everyone is entitled to a vigorous defence," said Glazer. "There should be plenty of local talent here able to defend this man."

Debra Parkes, associate professor in the faculty of law at the University of Manitoba, said it’s "totally understandable and ethical" that anyone with a conflict would be unable to represent Amsel. But she expressed concern some lawyers may balk at the case because of what he’s accused of doing.

"To dismiss it out of hand is a little bit of a concern," said Parkes. "You need resolute, good advocacy in these types of cases in particular. It’s a basic principle of legal ethics."

She said lawyers who are contacted by Amsel but either can’t or won’t act for him should at least be referring his case to others.

"The presumption of innocence is particularly important in cases like this," said Parkes. "I suspect there will be someone good who comes forward soon."


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