It was the day blue-chip Canadian law firm Torys had been dreading – the day when the firm’s credibility and integrity was hammered in the Chicago courtroom trial of client Conrad Black.
Darren Sukonick had barely swallowed a small sip of bottled water when the perjury salvo slammed into him.
“That testimony was not truthful, was it?” declared New York based lawyer Michael Schachter during a videotaped cross-examination yesterday. Mr. Sukonick, a corporate lawyer and partner at the blue-chip Toronto-based law firm Torys LLP, seemed momentarily stunned by the unseemly accusation lobbed at him.
But before he could give a response, Mr. Schachter continued to hammer away at Mr. Sukonick’s credibility in a booming voice from three video screens at the criminal fraud trial of Conrad Black, Peter Atkinson, Jack Boultbee and Mark Kipnis in Chicago.
As the panel of 18 jurors and alternates watched, Mr. Schachter, a compact whip of an attorney who successfully prosecuted domestic maven Martha Stewart on behalf of the U.S. government a few years ago, sat quietly listening alongside his client, Mr. Atkinson, in the U.S. federal courtroom. They knew how the day’s drama would unfold. After all, they were in the boardroom in late January, when four young U.S. assistant attorneys and about a dozen defence lawyers travelled to Toronto to take testimony from Mr. Sukonick and his former Torys partner Beth DeMerchant.
By the end of the day, the confidence the McGill University graduate had displayed under the gentle questioning of U.S. assistant attorney Julie Ruder was erased by Mr. Schachter and replaced by nervous glances, stammering responses and plenty more sips of water.
To be sure, it was a day Torys has been dreading–and bracing for –for months.
No law firm, let alone one of the country’s most venerable, relishes being a main player in a criminal case and watching its own lawyers justify the professional advice they dispensed to clients. It’s not good for the sacred principle of client confidentiality and it can’t be good for business, present and future.