The few spectators who have found their way to the 12th floor courtroom in Chicago where Conrad Black’s fraud trial is underway have witnessed a startling sight in recent days: a lawyer from a heavyweight Canadian legal firm accused of lying.
Darren Sukonick, a 37-year-old partner at Torys LLP who testified that he billed Hollinger for as many as 17 hours of work a day during 2001, has been assailed by defence lawyers over his recommendation that Hollinger International Inc. need not tell shareholders about non-competition payments made to company executives.
It’s been an uncomfortable few days for Torys. And there’s more to come.
Sukonick’s testimony has been far from riveting. Dressed in dark suits and white shirts, the Torys lawyer has only appeared at the trial on video screens marked with a time stamp. He spoke to lawyers in late January this year over at least three days.
Many objections have already been edited out of Sukonick’s testimony, so some frames in the 14 hours of videotape are jumpy. Some jury members have been noticeably disinterested in his testimony and one prosecution lawyer has repeatedly yawned throughout.
Further video of Sukonick is to be played Monday, and will be followed by even more taped testimony from Beth DeMerchant, a one-time Torys partner who quit the firm because of the Hollinger debacle.
Sukonick and DeMerchant were questioned by U.S. lawyers and taped in Toronto because they refused to attend in person.
Yet, despite the embarrassment, which began two years ago after Torys paid Hollinger $30.3 million (U.S.) to settle claims it had failed to act in Hollinger’s best interests, experts say there’s been little fallout.
“A firm like Torys trades on its reputation and that is what attracts and keeps clients,” said Richard Powers, assistant dean at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
“If there was some wrongdoing or unethical behaviour at the firm, we would have heard about it by now …”
Torys dates back to 1965 when it was created by twins James and John Tory, who inherited a law firm from their father, J.S.D. Tory.