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Justice vs. Verdict

I’ve been following the sex assault trial of Steve Desjourdy, the Ottawa police officer who cut off the t-shirt and bra of a young woman while she was pinned to the cell block floor by several other officers. This case made headlines a few years ago, and I blogged about it more than once.

The young woman was charged with assaulting a police officer, but the original judge dismissed the charges because of the conduct of the officers, calling their behaviour malicious and the charges a travesty. He made the cell block video publicly available, and we all saw what those officers did to that young woman. Sgt. Desjourdy was subsequently charged with sexually assaulting the young woman, and is now on trial.

It’s not the first time Ottawa police have assaulted someone and then charged them with assault. But it doesn’t usually backfire so spectacularly on them like this.

It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

Desjourdy is represented by Michael Edelson, the defence lawyer of choice among those who are in serious trouble and can afford him. Edelson represented Michael Cowpland¬† (insider trading), mayor Larry O’Brien (influence peddling), Bishop Raymond Lahey (child pornography), and Colonel Russell Williams (serial murder), as well as most police officers charged with criminal offenses in Eastern Ontario.

I know that our criminal justice system is based on the presumption of innocence, and this is a crucial and desirable thing. But while this principle may be the foundation upon which our system is built, the implementation of it has become corrupted over time by the influence of money.

It’s no secret that if you’re well-off you’re far more likely to be satisfied with the outcome of your trial than if you’re poor. A good lawyer can go the extra mile to get you some kick-ass justice. He or she can invest more time and money and exploit more loopholes, and if you’re lucky, even make mountains of evidence disappear by having it declared inadmissible. In the end, your verdict has less to do with your innocence or guilt than with the quantity and quality of legal representation you can afford.

Edelson claims not to represent guilty people, because everybody is innocent until proven guilty. But in the real world, outside of the courthouse, guilt is far more than a legal concept. It’s a matter of fact. And in that world, Edelson most certainly does represent his share of guilty people, including child rapists, murderers and terrorists. Defending the guilty is a major part of what defense lawyers do, and it’s a little disingenuous to deny it or play semantic games with it.

Here’s a snippet from Edelson’s website:

“Sexual assault is any unwanted touching for a sexual purpose. Even an allegation of sexual assault can change your life forever. Where the accusation is made by a family member or person under your care, the effects of a criminal charge can be devastating. We understand what is at stake and will do everything to defend your good name and reputation.”

(Whether you did it or not, and with no consideration for the devastating effects on the victim, and with no respect for her good name and reputation. We’ll just agree to pretend you didn’t do it and then do everything in our power to help you get away with it.)

Anyway. My beef with the criminal justice system¬† is that a lot of money can buy a lot of so-called justice. Money talks and money walks. If you can buy your way out of trouble by hiring the best lawyer, that’s great for you, but it’s not justice.


10 comments to Justice vs. Verdict

  • Deb

    Isn’t that the truth…we have seen this happen in this family, haven’t we? It is too bad you can’t get your teeth a little deeper into this story.

  • The big problem we have is that there is sometimes such a gap between whether a person is technically “guilty” of something and whether the person did something reprehensible but technically not criminal. Real people in the real world lose respect for police who do reprehensible things and get away with them because others lie, conceal, obfuscate etc. It is especially hard to stomach when like in this case we can see that the reprehensible activity took place. In the real world of a generation ago the fellow officers in the force would most of the time see to it that people like him doing things like that left the force. It will indeed be very interesting to see if the legal system can find a way to properly punish his behavior in this day.

    • I think Ottawans will become even more cynical about the police if he gets acquitted, since we all saw the video. As for fellow officers seeing to it that “people like him doing things like that” would leave the force…I don’t know about that. It seems that the “brotherhood” is very protective of its own, regardless of what they’ve done.

  • fuzzpedals

    Sgt Desjourdy *may* have his legal fees covered by the police department – since he was charged with actions during the course of duty – some departments have policies or collective agreement provisions that fund legals, contribute a certain amount, or reimburse in the event of a not-guilty finding.

    Dave, there may still be other ways he may be punished – either charges under the Police Services Act or discipline by the employer – where the very high criminal law standards of proof will not apply.

    • That’s what I was thinking too, Fuzzpedals. Edelson must be on some kind of retainer either by the OPS or the police association. He does seem to represent a lot of cops.

  • mudmama

    You know what, given that l wasn’tgiven ANY post court instructions regarding this go ahead speak freely Zoom. I’m not hiding behind the elephant in the room anymore and as much as Edelson tried to shame me in that courtroom *l* have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of….and hey l’m sure telling this story with the war and peace of evidence they had won’t bother Edelson in the slightest _its just more good publicity for him!

  • Good for you, Mudmama. Let’s tell the story. Would you like to write a guest post?

  • mudmama

    when I have access to more thanwee tablet let’s write something together.

    • My internet was down almost all day! Okay, sounds good, I’ll start letting things percolate in the background. (Is the wee tablet eating your spaces?)