Laura Liscio, lawyer who had drug charges dropped, now suing Peel police

A criminal lawyer who was cleared of all allegations that she was smuggling drugs to her clients is suing the Peel Regional Police for libel and slander.

Criminal lawyer was arrested and handcuffed in courtroom in February

Laura Liscio appears Thursday outside court, where the remaining two charges from a February arrest were dropped. (CBC)

Laura Liscio, a criminal lawyer who was cleared Thursday of all allegations that she was smuggling drugs to her clients, is suing the Peel Regional Police in southern Ontario for libel and slander.

The 32-year-old lawyer, who was arrested in early February in a Brampton, Ont., courthouse, filed the lawsuit on May 11 against Peel Regional Police Chief Jennifer Evans and the Peel Regional Police Services Board.

Liscio is seeking damages totalling $1.5 million.

A statement of claim filed with the Ontario superior court of justice alleges Liscio was "humiliated" when she was arrested at the courthouse and led out to a cruiser in her gown and handcuffs.

Police charged Liscio with several drug-related offences and alleged she was smuggling drugs into the courthouse to a man she was defending.

The force announced those allegations in a series of news releases that Liscio's lawyers say "were intentionally and maliciously published in order to embarrass and discredit Ms. Liscio."

Liscio's legal team say the police force's actions damaged their client's reputation. Liscio's lawyers are also seeking special damages, because Liscio has had to pass up opportunities to represent clients in criminal matters, as well as punitive damages. 

Found with marijuana at court

The statement of claim also explains how Liscio came to be found with marijuana at the courthouse on Feb. 12.

Liscio's lawyers say she was arranging to get a fresh set of clothing to a client before trial — a common practice among criminal lawyers. 

Liscio met with a friend of the client, who gave her an outfit of apparently all-new clothing, but hidden inside the apparently unworn shoes was some marijuana, which was found by court officials.

"Unbeknownst to Ms. Liscio, both shoes contained a quantity of marijuana that was concealed in hollowed-out heels under the insoles. It was not visible in plain view, nor was there an odour detectable," the statement of claim says.

Liscio had not met with her client at the time the drugs were found, the document says. 

All charges dropped

All charges against Liscio were dropped on Thursday. She thanked her lawyer, Stephen Bernstein, and left the courtroom without further comment.

Bernstein said he was confident of his client's innocence and the court's decision backed that up.

"The decision to withdraw the charges is the ultimate decision made by the Crown attorney's office," said
Acting Insp. Dan Richardson of the Peel police. "As the matter is still before the courts and another person is facing charges, we will not be making any further comment at this point."

Liscio was initially charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession for the purpose of trafficking, obstructing justice and breach of trust.

The obstruction of justice and breach of trust charges against Liscio were dropped in March.

Many members of the bar, including the Criminal Lawyers' Association, were outraged at the arrest. Dozens of lawyers wrote letters of support for Liscio, including high-profile lawyers like Clayton Ruby.

Led out of courtroom in gown

There was palpable anger over the manner in which Liscio was arrested, including arresting her in her lawyer's gown and not giving her notice or a chance to change into civilian clothes. The gown is a symbol of equality before the law and is not worn outside the courtroom.

The Peel police initially denied they led Liscio out of the court in handcuffs in her gown. They insisted she was never handcuffed until she was in civilian clothes. Police later withdrew that statement and admitted to arresting her in the courthouse with her gown on.

At the time, the Criminal Lawyers' Association supported Liscio. Spokesman Anthony Moustacalis called the arrest in full legal apparel an "affront to the administration of justice and to the independence of the bar."

The Toronto Lawyers Association has asked for a full inquiry into the arrest. Joseph Neuberger, the association's president, called the arrest "unjustified and unnecessary."