Defence pushes for quick acquittal in Sudbury byelection bribery trial
Gerry Lougheed and Pat Sorbara on trial for bribing potential candidates ahead of 2015 byelection
For 10 days last month, Crown prosecutors laid out their case against former Ontario Liberal CEO Pat Sorbara and the party's top Sudbury organizer, Gerry Lougheed.
They are accused of bribing would-be Sudbury Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier with government jobs or appointments to get him to step aside so the city's New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault could defect to the Ontario Liberals and run in the 2015 byelection.
Sorbara is also charged with bribing Thibeault to become a Liberal, with the promise of paid jobs for two of his loyal staffers coming with him from the NDP.
Since the first charges were laid two years ago, the defence has said that the Crown has no case and these charges never should have been laid.
Tuesday, they will say it again in court when they ask Justice Howard Borenstein for a "directed verdict."
If it's granted, Lougheed and Sorbara would be acquitted and the trial would end immediately.
"At this point the writing's on the wall, there's no way the Crown can possibly win, so we may as well enter an acquittal now, pack up and go home early," says Osgoode Hall law professor Palma Paciocco, explaining a directed verdict.
The defence argues that since both Thibeault and Olivier were not candidates and only potential party nominees when these conversations were being had, that this was internal Liberal Party business and the Election Act doesn't apply.
Paciocco says defence lawyers often ask judges to toss charges mid-trial, but the motions are rarely accepted, partly because directed verdicts are much easier to overturn on appeal, since it means the judge is stating that there is absolutely no chance of conviction in the case.
Despite that, Paciocco says judges and everyone else in the justice system are duty bound not to waste the court's time and the public's money.
"Rather than having everybody continue putting resources and effort and time and court time into a case that is already pre-determined," she says.
Paciocco says there can also be strategic reasons for the defence to ask for a directed verdict, even if they expect the judge to turn them down.
She cited the 2009 trial of then Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien who was up on criminal charges for offering a job to another mayoral candidate on the condition he drop out of the race.
Paciocco says the directed verdict motion gave the defence the chance to talk about how common such deals are in politics, something they couldn't have entered into evidence in the normal course of the trial, which got the judge thinking about the wider impact of his ruling.
She predicts that even if the Sudbury byelection trial ends with a directed verdict this week that in a complex case like this the judge "will give us some clarification" on what he thinks constitutes bribery under the Election Act and whether or not these sorts of dealings with candidates should be against the law.
Politically, a quick end to the trial with no conviction with the election campaign still eight months away would be great news for the Ontario Liberals.
"The sooner this is over, considering we have an election creeping up, the better for them," says Nipissing University political scientist David Tabachnick.
But he says the end of the trial, whenever it comes, won't necessarily mean the end of the scandal.
"We'll know whether what has happened is actually illegal. The question about whether it's ethical or not will remain."