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Former lawyers for a man accused of mailing bombs to his ex-wife and Winnipeg law offices should be allowed to testify about their relationship with him, Crown prosecutors argued Wednesday.
Guido Amsel, 51, is on trial for attempted murder and explosives-related charges after three bombs were mailed within the city in July 2015, following an explosion at his ex-wife’s home in 2013.
He pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, and provincial court Judge Tracey Lord is hearing the Crown’s case against him, which was scheduled to include testimony from two lawyers who stopped working for Amsel in 2014.
But Amsel’s defence team has argued parts of their testimony could violate the confidentiality lawyers must respect as part of solicitor-client privilege. The judge will have to decide how far that privilege extends and whether it covers a conversation Amsel allegedly had with his former lawyer outside a courtroom.
Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft told Lord he wanted to call Amsel’s former attorney, Sarah McEachern, to the witness stand to talk about a conversation Amsel and McEachern reportedly had after she formally withdrew as his lawyer.
Amsel allegedly asked McEachern whether his ex-wife, Iris Amsel, or her lawyer, Maria Mitousis, had given her money. Amsel then allegedly said: "It’s all going to come out in the end."
"This isn’t seeking legal advice," Vanderhooft said. "This is accusing Ms. McEachern of being paid by Iris Amsel or Maria Mitousis and then making a veiled threat that this will all ‘come out in the end.’"
McEachern was a junior lawyer representing Amsel in a civil suit against his ex-wife, court heard. She and a senior lawyer at the firm, George Orle, had a meeting with Amsel to inform him of their decision to withdraw from his case, Vanderhooft told court.
He argued the lawyers won’t be violating solicitor-client privilege if they testify about Amsel’s demeanour and the breakdown of the lawyer-client relationship, as well as the courthouse conversation — which Vanderhooft argued happened in a public place and was fair game.
"The genie’s out of the bottle, as it were," he said, explaining both lawyers had already talked to police about what happened out of concern for public safety while the investigation into the mailed explosives was ongoing.
Defence lawyer Jeremy Kostiuk suggested a breach of confidentiality in this case could have implications for solicitor-client privilege in courts across the country and could compromise the integrity of the justice system.
"The policy purpose behind the rule of privilege is to foster open communication," Kostiuk argued in court Wednesday. "And this is undermined if, at the end of the retainer, whatever it might be, suddenly the accused has to watch his back when it comes to asking questions about what happened during the course of the file."
A suspicious package addressed to Orle at his Stradbrook Avenue law office was intercepted by police on July 5, 2015. It exploded after a police bomb robot shot water cannons at it in a sandbagged area.
It was the third of three packages Amsel is accused of mailing. The first caused an explosion that seriously injured Mitousis at her River Avenue law office.
Vanderhooft said he couldn’t find any other cases like this in Canadian law and argued Amsel is trying to use solicitor-client privilege as a sword to prevent a victim from testifying in court.
"This is unusual," Vanderhooft told the judge. "When the lawyer becomes the complainant, we’re in a totally different situation."
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Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.