The latest Ford chapter has been playing out in an Ontario courtroom where Hizzoner is being sued for $6 million for libelling Toronto restaurateur George Foulidis claiming that corruption was involved in the lease extension granted Foulidis' company that operates the Boardwalk Pub on city property in the Beaches area of TO. As any lawyer will tell you once you allege corruption you better have the facts to back such a claim up... and those seems to be missing.
The critical comments were made in August 2010 in an interview with the Toronto Sun editorial board concerning a deal between the city and Foulidis' business, Tuggs Inc. extending his existing lease for 20 years. Ford was incensed at the time that the city gave an untendered 20-year lease extension to Tuggs Inc. for the continued operation of the Boardwalk Café along Woodbine Beach. Foulidis has said Ford has suggested he won the contract as a result of illegal activity.
Ford was upset that it looked like Foulidis is not playing by the same rules as everyone else and Hizzoner would most certainly know about that, eh?
BTW Ford has been excused from testifying last Thursday due to the fact that he must attend a city council meeting where vital decisions are being made... oops nope he is skipping that meeting to coach his high school football team.
The judge pressed for details of Hizzoner's being unavailable...
The trial was initially slated to last four days, but the emergence of the tape means a Toronto Sun reporter probably won’t have to take the stand. Ford’s lawyer, Gavin Tighe, called it a “curveball.”
This would have bumped up the mayor’s testimony, except that Ford informed court he is unavailable Thursday afternoon.
Ford has refused to say why, but the mayor’s high school football team has an important game at 2 p.m. in Scarborough.
Judge John Macdonald pressed for details, since extending into next week will affect other trials.
“Why can’t we sit tomorrow afternoon?” Macdonald asked. “I’m able to make accommodations if accommodations are necessary. Why can’t we sit tomorrow?”
Ford’s lawyer, Gavin Tighe, simply said the mayor was unavailable.
The word “football” was never spoken.
And in an unrelated story:
Mayor Rob Ford was on the football field at Birchmount Stadium in Scarborough, as his $6-million libel trial trudged on in a University Avenue courtroom Thursday.
Ford did not speak directly to his early exit at the trial Thursday.
"It's not easy but I made a commitment," he said. "These kids will never forget what we've done. I'll never forget what they've done."
"This is a win-win for everybody," Ford said.
Ford was expected to testify Thursday. But according to Coun. Doug Ford, the mayor informed the court he would be unable to attend and it was approved.
"From what I understand, the judge approved all this," he said.
"He supports youth athletics. He's committed, he's passionate about helping kids."
It is not clear whether the judge knew the quarterfinal game was behind the mayor's absence.
Good thing that court resources were not idled and wasted, eh?
On the first day of trial Ford's defence was that he made comments about Tuggs Inc., and not about the plaintiff personally. Uh yeah that defence should really work, eh?
And besides despite what was reported in The Sun quoting Ford, Ford's lawyers claimed nobody really knows what Ford said because somehow the reporter notes and the recording of that interview have gone missing or been erased. So the defence was Ford never uttered the word corruption... despite what was reported.
However as soon as that testimony was made public Canada.com’s senior producer, Rob Granatstein, formerly the Sun’s editorial page editor, dug up the recording in question on his computer and turned it over. And when it was played?
In the recording, then mayoral candidate Rob Ford is heard talking about sessions held in private by city council to discuss confidential matters — known as “in camera” (which the mayor deemed an “oxymoron” because there are no cameras recording ) meetings. Unfortunately for him a former editor at the newspaper had an audio file of the interview, produced it and when it was played in court on Friday - Ford's defence was shredded. And the audio record:
“If Tuggs isn’t, then I don’t know what is,’’ Ford told the Toronto Sun’s editorial board.
“I can’t accuse anyone or I can’t pinpoint it, but why do we have to go in-camera on the Tuggs deal?
“These in-camera meetings, there’s more corruption and skullduggery going on in there than I’ve ever seen in my life.”
On the stand he was backed into a corner and forced to admit he had no evidence beyond tips from anonymous callers and a personal hunch when he singled out a controversial 20-year restaurant deal with the city as “an example of corruption and skulduggery.”
Justice Macdonald addressed the mayor directly to seek more clarification, and then asked Mr. Shiller to put the question to him again. “I don’t agree with how the Tuggs deal was done,” said the mayor. “When they don’t follow the process, when staff recommends an RFP and you ignore it, I call that skullduggery and corruption. So, that’s the answer.”
And as he floundered away under questioning:
In questioning from Brian Shiller, the lawyer for Mr. Foulidis, the mayor said he had no proof that the sole-source deal was corrupt, but said he was one of many who were suspicious. At one point he described councillors as “going snake” in a closed session to discuss the contract as a sign that something was wrong. “Some of them were losing their mind to get this deal through,” he said.
“Something was going on. I don’t know what it is. I can’t pinpoint it,” he said. “It’s hard to catch them in the act. It’s hard to prove it.”
To that, Mr. Shiller asked, “If you don’t know who is being corrupt and you don’t know how they are being corrupt, how do you know there is corruption?”
“It smells that way. It just looks that way,” Mr. Ford responded. He later added: “Over the last five years or before we signed this deal there was a lot of innuendos, there were a lot of councillors talking about it. I got a lot of phone calls from people. I talked to a lot of people. They called me about the deal. It just didn’t smell right. It just didn’t pass the test in my personal opinion.”
Later in the day, Mr. Shiller questioned the mayor on his remarks during a radio interview in the weeks leading up to the meeting with the editorial board. In that case, he noted, Mr. Ford was asked if there was money paid under the table in connection with the Tuggs deal, and he responded that he believed there was.
Under questioning, Mr. Ford said he had no evidence to support that belief. “Did I see someone get a brown envelope of cash, no,” he said.
Instead, Mr. Ford said a number of people called him to tell him something was not right with the deal and that money was being exchanged. Asked why he did nothing with the allegations, Mr. Ford said they were made by people who wanted to remain anonymous.
“I don’t know who they are,” he said. “They are calling from pay phones, they are calling from blocked numbers.”
At one point Mr. Ford said he would like the police to investigate the deal, but later said he had never called them on the matter.
And after being evasive for hours and wrestling with counsel for the plaintiff, Siller went for the pin. “My question is … when you say, “and if Tuggs isn’t, I don’t know what is”, what (you’re) saying is, if Tuggs isn’t an example of corruption and skullduggery, I don’t know what is?”
There were objections from Ford’s lawyer but Superior Court Justice John Macdonald allowed the question.
Ford: “I’m going to repeat myself the best I can to explain and answer you. Here, I don’t agree with how the Tuggs deal was done and I used the word, when they don’t follow the process, and when staff recommends a (request for proposal) and you ignore it, I call that skullduggery and corruption, that’s the answer.”
And Hizzoner went completely off-script and likely induced a near heart attack for his own lawyer with wild claims. He began blithering on about money exchanging hands, under the table, and “dirty deals,” talk of it from anonymous callers, all the while sinking deeper into the muck.
Counsel for the plaintiff must have thought he struck a goldmine because once all the blithering ended and Hizzoner was asked to back up his claims with evidence or some proof - his response was “I can’t prove it, no.”
Rob Ford... his own lawyer's worst nightmare.
And closing arguments seemed to go not better for Hizzoner which mercifully closed on Tuesday.
During closing arguments counsel for the Plaintiff Brian Shiller submitted that Ford had no factual basis for his comments about civic corruption related to his client's renewed pub lease and was just playing to the peanut gallery. Ford was concerned about winning votes during the 2010 campaign — not the process followed to award an untendered vending deal — when he uttered words that are at the centre of a defamation lawsuit, a lawyer argued Monday. Ford was completely reckless and was flailing about trying to win votes and he simply did not care who would be hurt by his unsupported allegations of corruption. In particularly apt turn of phrase he argued:
“And the road kill is [George] Foulidis,” said Brian Shiller.
“Mr. Ford, in fact, did not know anything about untoward conduct by anyone. He just did not like that the sole source deal was signed instead of the deal going to a [request for proposals], and he’s entitled to that view,” Mr. Shiller told Justice John Macdonald. “And if that’s what he had said to the Toronto Sun editorial board, we wouldn't be here today. But that’s not what he said. He said the deal was corrupt.”
Shiller called it an “opportunist statement” intended to make “an election issue as sensational as possible” to win the support of Torontonians who shared his view: that “city hall needed to be cleaned up.”
And as Shiller points out Ford was so concerned about the extended lease that he did not even bother to turn up for the council vote that actually extended the lease for the Boardwalk Pub.
And it seems yet another purported Ford defence to the libel claim has gone up in smoke.
A key to the defence has been the claim by Ford and to which he testified under oath at great length during the trial that Toronto City Council went into in camera sessions to approve the lease extension of the Boardwalk Pub. Ford in a newspaper article at the time that quotes councillors discussing an in camera session, and references to confidential items on the agenda of the May 2010 council meeting, where the Tuggs deal was approved, and the June 2010 meeting, where council considered reopening it.
And why is this key? Mr. Ford’s lawyers point to it as the grounds upon which the Mayor alleged corruption at City Hall during an editorial board meeting with the Toronto Sun three months later, in August 2010. The resulting Sun story led to the $6-million lawsuit from Tuggs owner George Foulidis.
The problem is says Brian Shiller is the in camera sessions never in fact happened and Ford is lying in an attempt to buttress his defence of "fair comment" which must have some factual basis.
Mr. Shiller argued references to in camera discussions are “very convenient” for the mayor, whose testimony he described as “disingenuous.”
“I urge you to find that when he’s saying it’s all confidential, it’s behind closed doors, it’s not true… It’s an excuse to not back up his allegation,” he told Judge John Macdonald. “Because he has no evidence of corruption.”
Initially Ford's lawyer Gavin Tighe was seeking leave to adduce additional evidence in the form of Toronto Council minutes to support Ford's story as his defence was built around this claim where Ford in a newspaper article at the time that quotes councillors discussing an in camera session, and references to confidential items on the agenda of the May 2010 council meeting, where the Tuggs deal was approved, and the June 2010 meeting, where council considered reopening it.
Slight problem... Minutes from the June council meeting indicate council did not go into closed session. Minutes from the May council meeting say council went into private session for three hours, but also state that Rob Ford was not present. The May minutes do not list Tuggs as an item that was discussed in closed session.
Tighe had planned to seek leave to introduce the May minutes, which are part of city council’s public record, as evidence, but changed his mind on Tuesday. And with good reason it seems.
The presiding judge was not buying what Ford's counsel was selling. Justice Macdonald said he does not need to be sold on the fact that as a candidate in the last election, Rob Ford was entitled to air issues related to sole sourced contracts and transparency at city hall.
“The issue here is a little different,” Justice John Macdonald said to Tighe. “In the course of exercising those rights … did he just go too far in relation to [George] Foulidis?” (Road kill perhaps?)
In a somewhat ironical statement Ford's lawyer tried to argue that his client really does not need any believable facts upon which to base his claims. Maybe Rob Ford is an alien???
“If Mr. Ford had said I think this deal was brought from Mars, by aliens, if he can find someone else to agree with him, it’s not defamatory,” said Mr. Tighe. “The launching pad for the belief and the opinion is that the deal exists.”
Ford had testified that his comments were about the process followed by city hall. He maintained that something about the Tuggs deal didn’t “smell right,” although he admitted he had no proof of corruption, just anonymous phone calls from people telling him money had exchanged hands. And his counsel claims that is enough to support a defence of fair comment.
Justice Macdonald pressed Tighe on the argument and pointed out the cases upon which he was relying did not go as far as claimed. “Where are the facts that support … the statement that the Tuggs deal smacks of civic corruption, or if the Tuggs deal isn’t civic corruption I don’t know what is? Where is the pith and substance of that?” asked Justice Macdonald.
Tighe said the defence of fair comment does not require him to prove that the allegations are true or “that there are facts upon which a reasonable person would have that belief. All I need to prove is there there are some facts which everyone can reference which anybody could possibly have that opinion.”
The judge seems to find that argument unsupportable - and with good reason as it would completely gut the tort of defamation (libel and slander).
So it seems Rob Ford stumbles around in court, just like in other venues such as the Grey Cup events and on a weight scale.