Mike Duffy trial: Inside Courtroom 33

The Ottawa courtroom that is hosting the fraud and breach of trust trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy is not much bigger than a large living room, but contains within it some big personalities.

The man who refers to himself as the Ol' Duff is only one of the big personalities in the Ottawa courtroom

Mike Duffy, left, is seen in profile and seated in court in this court sketch, as Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes outlines the case against the suspended senator before Judge Charles Vaillancourt, centre. (Greg Banning)

Courtroom 33 in Ottawa's Ontario court of justice, the scene these past two weeks for the fraud and breach of trust trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy, is not much bigger than a large living room.

The benches for media and the public are cushioned, but more like church pews than you might expect. Especially uncomfortable if you sit for hours, immobile.

The prisoner box used to be home to the court sketch artist, but he's since been moved to the jury box, which is also empty.

So the stars of the show remain those in the front rows.

To the left, at a long table, is Duffy, who sits by himself, with his computer open. He takes notes sometimes. Other times, he checks news stories about his case. And, uncharacteristically, the man who refers to himself as the Ol' Duff is forced to be quiet and to listen while others hold the spotlight.

As the day goes on, Duffy seems tired, not unlike everyone else in the courtroom, but the stress for him is surely greater.

He occasionally whispers to his lawyer, rarely cracks a smile. During breaks he is on his BlackBerry, sending emails, making calls, ever the networker.

Behind Duffy sits his wife, Heather, who has missed just one day so far. But there are also various supporters: some family members, some friends, some fellow colleagues, all in Duffy's camp.

Directly opposite to Duffy on the right-hand side of the courtroom, sits a man few had seen until now.

The investigator

Sgt. Greg Horton is the lead RCMP investigator on Duffy's case and on those of suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau and former senator Mac Harb.

Sgt. Greg Horton of the RCMP arrives at the Ottawa courthouse for day 8 of the Mike Duffy trial. Horton was lead investigator on the Duffy case. (CBC)
Horton sits with his computer open too, the screen featuring either a picture of his bulldog, Carmella, which he changes regularly to satisfy curious reporters, or to the thousands of pages of documents he has sifted through to build his case.

Horton is in charge of knowing not only where the evidence is and how it fits together, but also making sure each Crown witness shows up. He will greet reporters, chat with the Crown and help the defence find documents, but is mostly quietly focused on seeing his work bear fruit.

Near Horton are the Crown prosecutors: Mark Holmes and Jason Neubauer share a desk in front of the judge. They are both keen and determined, a tag team for witnesses, ably guiding each other through documents and taking notes. They work efficiently, perhaps because they know how many witnesses they have left. They deal with their witnesses effectively, make their points and move along.

These two have other trials coming down the pipe, a murder case for one. This trial may attract many reporters, but it is not the most important item on the Crown's calendar. Not even close.

The defence

Across from the Crown sits Donald Bayne, Duffy's lawyer, and his associate, Jon Doody.

Doody is young, recently through the Ontario bar and with Bayne's firm for four years. He seems able to find any document Bayne needs, even before he needs it. He deftly scrolls though PDFs that appear on the screen positioned for all in the courtroom to see.

Donald Bayne, counsel for Duffy, arrives at the courthouse for his trial in Ottawa on Friday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Bayne, though, has been at this since 1972. He is beyond comfortable in the courtroom. Perhaps it is his triathlon training that keeps him able to stand focused for hours in the courtroom, without water, shifting between two podiums and several binders of documents.

At various points he leans against the jury box, raises his heels off the ground, and shifts his attention from one critical argument to the next.

If Bayne scores a point, he also gives reporters a chance to catch up, by repeating what the witness has said. He is so thorough he is at times redundant, but there is strategy in belabouring points, if you can just stay with him long enough.

At the front of the court, from his elevated bench is Judge Charles Vaillancourt (pronounced the English way, with hard Ls and an audible T).

He has a growing pile of evidence to his left, a computer to his right and his copious notes in front of him.

Vaillancourt insists he has trouble remembering to take breaks, but there is no evidence of that yet. Vaillancourt will not rush lawyers in their presentation of evidence but will simply say he's got the point, time to move along.

The judge will intervene when a witness is speaking too quietly. He seems concerned that everyone should be able to hear the testimony and see the screens of evidence.

He has revealed little about what he's thinking or where he's going, but these are the early days of the trial.

Vaillancourt has already admitted, however, what everyone in that courtroom suspected: although this trial was scheduled for 41 days, it may go longer.

So, everyone best get comfortable. These faces, these personalities, this room, will soon become a little too familiar.

About the Author

Rosemary Barton is CBC's Chief Political Correspondent, based in Ottawa.


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