Tributes pour in for ‘defence lawyer’s defence lawyer’ Winnipeg criminal court legend Greg Brodsky dies at 81

A Winnipeg lawyer for nearly six decades, Greg Brodsky represented more than 1,000 clients in murder and manslaughter cases.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/02/2022 (302 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg lawyer for nearly six decades, Greg Brodsky represented more than 1,000 clients in murder and manslaughter cases.

His list of clients included headline-makers: Thomas Sophonow, Darren Morrissette, Robert Starr, and James Driskell. His work changed laws, including ones which help protect women who killed their spouses after years of suffering domestic abuse.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Veteran lawyer Robert Tapper, who knew Greg Brodsky (pictured above) for more than 50 years, said his death was “the end of an era.”

And the direction of his legal career came down to a flip of a coin.

Brodsky died Wednesday at 81, after a battle with supranuclear palsy.

Brodsky’s son Daniel, himself a defence counsel practicing in Toronto, said his dad (called to the bar in 1963) had been working at the Winnipeg Stock Exchange for two months, when his bosses contacted prominent criminal lawyer Harry Walsh.

“They said, we think he has an aptitude for criminal law,” Daniel said Thursday. “(Walsh) said he’ll talk with him.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Dr. Henry Morgentaler, with lawyer Greg Brodsky at his side, being taken away from the Corydon Avenue clinic by city police in 1985.

“Greg and Hersh Wolch were hired at the same time, and (Walsh) said we’ll hire both of you but one of you will be criminal and the other civil — I will flip a coin to decide.”

As a result, Brodsky went on to be involved in more than 1,000 homicide cases (Daniel believes it ended up being 1,040). Wolch later went on to become a defence lawyer, too.

“Did he have any regrets?” said Daniel. “He’d say: if I choose the time to go it would be after my address to the jury and before I get the verdict.

“Did he (Greg Brodsky) have any regrets? He’d say: if I choose the time to go it would be after my address to the jury and before I get the verdict.” – Daniel, Greg Brodsky’s son

“For more than 50 years, he had people say: you won’t win this case… He just loved the opportunity to turn the tide.”

Brodsky was born in Saskatchewan and moved to Winnipeg with his family as a child. He later met his wife, Sylvia, and they were married Dec. 29, 1957. They were together for almost 62 years when she died in 2019.

For the defence: Greg Brodsky has represented more than 1,000 accused killers in the past 55 years

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS After 55 years as a lawyer, Greg Brodsky has no plans to retire. "I'm doing what I love doing," he says.

Posted:

When someone in Manitoba is accused of murder, more times than not it is Greg Brodsky’s phone that rings. And it has been ringing constantly for more than five decades.

Brodsky, now in his 55th year as a lawyer, recently reached a milestone few, if any, others will; he has now represented 1,000 clients in murder and manslaughter cases.

Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby, a legal titan himself, calls Brodsky “a hero to us all.”

“A completely tenacious advocate, who knows his duty to his client and to the public,” Ruby says. “Perhaps at his best in the Supreme Court of Canada, where I’ve appeared with him.

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When Brodsky was called to the bar, he was just 22 and the death penalty was still an option for homicide cases.

Brodsky was the junior lawyer on his first homicide case.

Winnipeg police detective Ron Houston was on a stakeout in June 1970 for a sex assault suspect, when he was fatally stabbed by Thomas Shand.

Shand took the officer’s gun and shot him, also firing at and missing another officer. Later that year, Shand was found guilty.

“He got to hear his client was going to be hanged,” said Daniel. “It was later commuted to life imprisonment.”

Daniel said his dad always worked hard on cases and was working on future ones, even when he was waiting for a jury verdict.

“There was always one rule in the house,” said Daniel. “You can do what you want to do, but not halfway. Don’t do anything halfway. Do what you love.”

While Brodsky was synonymous with representing people charged with homicide, for a number of years, Brodsky represented pro-choice advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler during his push to convince the federal government to legalize abortions in Canada.

JEFF DE BOOY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES While Greg Brodsky was synonymous with representing people charged with homicide, for a number of years, he represented pro-choice advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler during his push to convince the federal government to legalize abortions in Canada.

He even represented Bertha Rand, known as Winnipeg’s cat lady, who was charged numerous times in the 1960s and 1970s with having too many felines in her St. James neighbourhood house.

The province recognized Brodsky’s contributions to law, appointing him a Queen’s Counsel in 1977.

Outside the courtroom, Brodsky was a president of Skills Unlimited and Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.

Veteran lawyer Robert Tapper, who knew Brodsky for more than 50 years, said his death was “the end of an era.”

Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said Brodsky’s death also marks a time “where these lions of the bar, as they were, are beginning to pass.”

Highlights of Greg Brodsky’s legal career:

Angelique Lyn Lavallee — The Canadian precedent for the battered woman defence would be a career-defining case for any other lawyer, but it was just one of several Brodsky has been involved in that resulted in changes to the law. Lavallee shot her common-law husband, Kevin Rust, in 1986, to escape years of abuse.

Darren Morrissette — He, along with Robert Chaulk, was convicted in the 1985 slaying of 88-year-old George Haywood. The pair believed they were superhumans destined to rule the world and they killed Haywood as proof of their power. The case is cited as the leading decision on mental disorder defence.

Angelique Lyn Lavallee — The Canadian precedent for the battered woman defence would be a career-defining case for any other lawyer, but it was just one of several Brodsky has been involved in that resulted in changes to the law. Lavallee shot her common-law husband, Kevin Rust, in 1986, to escape years of abuse.

Darren Morrissette — He, along with Robert Chaulk, was convicted in the 1985 slaying of 88-year-old George Haywood. The pair believed they were superhumans destined to rule the world and they killed Haywood as proof of their power. The case is cited as the leading decision on mental disorder defence.

Robert Starr — He was convicted of first-degree murder in the execution-style slayings of Darlene Weselowski and Bernard Cook in 1994. But a new trial was ordered by the Supreme Court — and new instructions were given to trial judges to tell juries — when it was determined the trial judge gave the wrong standard of proof for what “reasonable doubt” means.

Thomas Sophonow — Brodsky defended him during his first two trials against a charge of killing doughnut shop server Barbara Stoppel just before Christmas in 1981. It was later determined Sophonow was wrongly convicted and he received $2.3 million in compensation from the province of Manitoba.

James Driskell — He was wrongfully convicted for the slaying of Perry Harder in 1991. DNA tests later discredited hair samples used at the trial. Years later, it was learned the Crown hadn’t disclosed it paid thousands of dollars to two key witnesses who testified against Driskell. He was later awarded more than $4 million in compensation.

Frank Ostrowski — He has been fighting to clear his name since his 1987 conviction for the drug-related slaying of Robert Nieman in 1986. The former hairstylist and cocaine dealer spent 23 years in prison before being granted bail in 2009, after new information surfaced about a secret deal made with a key Crown witness. The federal government sent the case to the Manitoba Court of Appeal for review in 2014, saying there was a reasonable likelihood of a wrongful conviction. The court has yet to deliver a decision.

Jerry Stolar — Brodsky represented the former Winnipeg police officer who, with patrol partner Barry Nielsen, were convicted of killing Nielsen’s brother-in-law Paul Clear, and was later successful in getting the Appeal Court to ask for a new trial. Another lawyer took over the case and Stolar was convicted when a new witness came forward.

Edwin Dennis Proctor — Possibly Brodsky’s longest-term client. He was charged with the strangling death of Catherine Cluney in 1979, but he wasn’t convicted until 1995. A judge ruled he was not fit to stand trial in 1980, and he was committed to the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. In 1994, a jury determined he could be tried.

Edward Andronovich — He was charged with killing his wife behind the Grant Park High School in 1990, but forensic evidence later proved he couldn’t have committed the crime. Another man was eventually convicted of the slaying.

Vaughan Pollen — The Sturgeon Creek High School student shot and killed 16-year-old Ken Maitland in a classroom in 1978. Pollen, who was later found not guilty of the slaying by reason of insanity, pulled the trigger after weeks of taunting about being a fan of the rock band Kiss.

Andrea Giesbrecht — She was convicted of six counts of concealing a child’s body and sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison for leaving decomposed remains of infants inside a rented storage locker. Brodsky convinced the Manitoba Court of Appeal to reduce the sentence to three years, arguing the original one was too long because she had been sentenced as if she had committed a violent crime even though she was never charged with one.

“There has seldom been a murder case in the city for a long time where the name Greg Brodsky wasn’t in some way associated with it… He was dogged, hard, hard working. He could be annoying in his insistence and sometimes ponderous approach to detail, but he didn’t distinguish between cases. He would work as hard on a seemingly banal and mundane case as he would, some would consider, a much more exotic and serious case,” Joyal said.

“I had great respect for his integrity and ethical approach to his practice…. He really was old-school honest.”

Defence counsel James Lockyer, a founding director of what is now known as Innocence Canada, said: “Greg was the defence lawyer’s defence lawyer… He lived it, breathed it, loved it, enjoyed it.”

“He is one of those who you know would never have prosecuted anyone and would never have wanted to be a judge. He always wanted to be there defending people, ideally in front of a jury if he could. There will never be anyone like him, certainly not in Manitoba and probably not in Canada,” Lockyer said.

Lawyer Danny Gunn worked with Brodsky for 2 1/2 years, starting in 2001, after a half-decade with the Crown’s office in Ontario.

JOE BRYKSA/WIINIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The province recognized Brodsky’s (right) contributions to law, appointing him a Queen’s Counsel in 1977.

“He basically gave me a crash course in what it was like to do defence work,” Gunn said Thursday.

“The thing about Greg was he never gave up,” he said. “He was such a strong believer in the job that we do and the idea that everybody deserved to be represented with dignity, that it was about the fight, that for the first time, people had someone fighting for them.”

Brodsky was “more dedicated to the law than anyone I have ever been exposed to,” said criminal defence lawyer Matt Gould, who joined Brodsky and Company in 2009, and is now a partner in the firm (Brodsky, Amy & Gould).

“Even when he was in the hospital the last couple of years… he wanted to jump into whatever cases were going on,” Gould said.

“There was always one rule in the house. You can do what you want to do, but not halfway. Don’t do anything halfway. Do what you love.” – Daniel, Greg Brodsky’s son

“It was always entertaining to be next to him when he’d be discussing issues with the prosecutor, because he wasn’t in your face about this stuff. He wouldn’t say, ‘That’s ridiculous, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He would just calmly go along but stick to his position, like a pit bull: very clear, but totally respectful, and you could see the Crowns walking into a trap sometimes.”

Defence counsel Martin Glazer called Brodsky “the super star of the defence bar.”

“He was always there for lawyers to seek advice. He was a trendsetter and a fighter to the finish. He was fearless, formidable and forceful… I greatly admired him, and his passing is a great loss to the criminal law bar.”

SUPPLIED When Greg Brodsky was called to the bar, he was just 22 and the death penalty was still an option for homicide cases.

Lawyers Scott Newman and Ryan Amy said Brodsky’s legacy is also throughout the province’s legal system.

“It is hard to understate the impact he had on the criminal bar and the bench — he had close to 50 years of articling students,” said Newman.

“At one point, eight judges on the bench had articled with Greg,” added Amy.

Brodsky’s funeral is Sunday at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery.

He is survived by sons, Aaron and Daniel, four grandchildren, and other relatives.

— with files from Dean Pritchard

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Greg Brodsky has represented more than 1,000 people charged with homicide charges.
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Outside the courtroom, Greg Brodsky was a president of Skills Unlimited and Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Greg Brodsky’s funeral is Sunday at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery. He is survived by sons, Aaron and Daniel, four grandchildren, and other relatives.
Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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Updated on Thursday, February 10, 2022 8:21 PM CST: Fixes typo.

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