In a half-century law career that has had him defend embezzlers and fraud artists, accused killers and everyone in between, Hymie Weinstein has amassed enough stories to fill a very heavy book.

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In a half-century law career that has had him defend embezzlers and fraud artists, accused killers and everyone in between, Hymie Weinstein has amassed enough stories to fill a very heavy book.

It’s a book Weinstein insists he will never write. But if he did, this story, he says, would be Chapter 1:

It’s the late 1970s, and Weinstein is defending a young man accused of stabbing a woman to death at a house party.

53 years after landing his first job as a junior prosecutor, Hymie Weinstein has closed the book on his legal career.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

53 years after landing his first job as a junior prosecutor, Hymie Weinstein has closed the book on his legal career.

"A crazy thing happened to me," Weinstein said in a recent interview. "I thought I knew who the murderer was: it was one of the Crown witnesses. I don’t know how I picked out this person, but I did and I convinced myself it was (him)."

On Day 5 of the trial, the witness testified for the Crown. As Weinstein began his cross examination, he "did something I’ve never done before and never done since... I accused him of being the murderer."

"He denied it (several times) and I thought the judge is going to jump on me for what I’m doing," he said. "You know, you only saw this on Perry Mason shows."

The next week, a jury acquitted Weinstein’s client.

"He denied it (several times) and I thought the judge is going to jump on me for what I’m doing. You know, you only saw this on Perry Mason shows." – Hymie Weinstein

"Here’s the crazy part," the lawyer said. "Two weeks later, I’m in my office, the phone rings and it’s (the witness).

"'I've been charged with second-degree murder of that woman,'" the man told Weinstein. "'I’d like you to be my lawyer.'"

"I said, ‘Don’t you remember that I accused you in front of the judge and jury of being the murderer?’ He said: ‘Yeah, but you did such a good job.'"

Now, 53 years after landing his first job as a junior prosecutor, Weinstein has closed the book on his legal career and packed away his robes for good. He officially retires Wednesday.

Hymie Weinstein in the pages of the Free Press
Aug. 25, 2007
Aug. 25, 2007
Oct. 9, 2003
Oct. 9, 2003
Feb. 12, 2000
Feb. 12, 2000

 

To hear Weinstein tell it, a career in law was the furthest thing from his mind when he enrolled at the University of Manitoba in the early 1960s.

"I went into science," said Weinstein, 79. "Why… I have no idea. I hated chemistry and physics" and spent more time "playing pool and going to the frat house" than attending classes.

Weinstein flunked his first year, then flunked again in his second.

"At that time, you had a permanent withdrawal (and) you couldn’t apply anywhere in Canada," he said.

So, Weinstein headed south, where a few slammed doors and one "big lie" later, he was admitted to Moorhead State College (now Minnesota State University Moorhead).

Weinstein with his son, Josh, in 2015.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES

Weinstein with his son, Josh, in 2015.

"I called the registrar, said, ‘My name is Hymie Weinstein, I finished (high school) and I worked for two years.’ I got in. Just showed him the (high school) transcript and the other two transcripts never saw the light of day."

A year later, Weinstein was back at the University of Manitoba where, employing powers of persuasion that would serve him well in the courtroom, he convinced the assistant dean to let him into law school.

"He said. ‘OK, I’m going to let you into law school, but with the status of repeater. In other words, if you fail one exam, you’re out.’"

Weinstein made the Dean’s List and won "a couple of prizes" before graduating in 1967. He joined the Crown’s office in 1968, and four years later was headhunted by the firm that would be his home for the next five decades, Myers LLP (as it is now known).

Weinstein as counsel for Harry Bakema at the Taman Inquiry in 2008.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / FREE PRESS FILES

Weinstein as counsel for Harry Bakema at the Taman Inquiry in 2008.

During that time, Weinstein has played a part in many of the province’s — and Canada’s — most high-profile legal proceedings.

He represented the RCMP in the Helen Betty Osborne segment of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry and was senior commission counsel for the Somalia Inquiry. In 2001, he represented Winnipeg police in the 911 murder inquest: the case of sisters Corrine McKeown and Doreen Leclair, Indigenous women who were killed after calling 911 five times for help over the course of eight hours.

The case that had the most impact on him, Weinstein says, was the inquest into the 1994 deaths of 12 babies who underwent cardiac surgery at Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital.

Weinstein and now-provincial court Judge Mary Kate Harvie represented several anesthetists and doctors at the hospital, many of whom refused to work with Dr. Jonah Odim, who the inquiry heard continually took cases beyond the surgical team’s skill and experience.

"This was the worst thing that I went through. I’m in the courtroom every day, and in the audience are all the parents of the children... It was such a sad, sad inquiry because of the deaths of these very young children who shouldn’t have been operated on here." – Hymie Weinstein

"This was the worst thing that I went through," he said. "I’m in the courtroom every day, and in the audience are all the parents of the children... It was such a sad, sad inquiry because of the deaths of these very young children who shouldn’t have been operated on here."

Over the years, Weinstein’s roster of clients has included a growing number of police officers.

In 2008, he represented then-East St. Paul chief Harry Bakema at an inquiry into the death of Crystal Taman, who was killed by an off-duty Winnipeg Police Service constable who rear-ended her car after a night of partying. A botched investigation resulted in all impaired driving-related charges being dropped against Derek Harvey-Zenk.

In 2013, Weinstein and co-counsel Lisa LaBossiere successfully defended Bakema against charges he tried to cover up evidence Harvey-Zenk had been drinking prior to the collision.

Weinstein, left, and Sheldon Pinx in 2011 after a judge threw out all charges against two Winnipeg police officers accused of lying under oath.

JOE BRYKSA / FREE PRESS FILES

Weinstein, left, and Sheldon Pinx in 2011 after a judge threw out all charges against two Winnipeg police officers accused of lying under oath.

In 2011, Weinstein and lawyer Sheldon Pinx won acquittals for two police officers accused of perjury after the prosecutor failed to formally confirm their identities before the jury.

Weinstein makes no apologies for winning a case on what many members of the public might call a "technicality."

"Any lawyer, even if he can get a positive result on a technicality, they have to go for it," he said.

"I don’t blame the public who says, ‘Oh my God, how can he be acquitted?’ But what the public has to know, and should know, is that as defence counsel, we have to do the best job we can. Whether it’s offensive to the public or not, if there’s a possible defence, we have to use it."

"Any lawyer, even if he can get a positive result on a technicality, they have to go for it." – Hymie Weinstein

Asked about defending police in the current social climate — following the high-profile murder of Black man George Floyd in the U.S. — Weinstein said he would never refuse to take an officer’s case.

"When I have a police officer coming to see me for the first time, who had to use his firearm, he becomes so emotional and teary-eyed," he said. "They don’t want to do that, and if they have to do that and they do it, I’m telling you, in my experience with police officers, they are so emotional when talking about it."

Weinstein’s son, Josh, joined Myers LLP after his call to the bar in 1996, and later became a managing partner at the firm.

"It’s been great having Josh here. We both do criminal work and are sort of similar because we both have size 16 shoes," Weinstein cracked.

Josh said his father never coddled him, but was always available for advice.

Former police chief Harry Bakema with Weinstein outside the inquiry.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / FREE PRESS FILES

Former police chief Harry Bakema with Weinstein outside the inquiry.

"Whether it was a conscious decision or not, it was a very good one," Josh said. "It was open door, but hands-off. He was not there to supplement my practice by giving me files. He was very much about developing yourself on your own."

Watching his dad work, "It was always about treating everyone with respect," Josh said.

"Even the most serious cases, say a murder case, there was never any other way about it other than approaching it that there has been a victim, there is a family who is grieving and you basically respected everyone," Josh said.

"I just remember him (telling me): ‘This is a long practice, you are going to have a long time with these people and you are going to have to learn how to work with them, even in the most difficult situations, and the only way to do that is with respect.’"

Weinstein was a "straight-shooter" who "never went back on his word," said retired Crown prosecutor Brian Bell.

"If I had ever done something bad, and was going to plead guilty, Hymie would be the first guy I would go to. He had a real knack and a super reputation." – Retired Crown prosecutor Brian Bell

"I would say he was the perfect gentleman… he never tried to fool you or trick you into doing something that you ought not to do," Bell said.

"If I had ever done something bad, and was going to plead guilty, Hymie would be the first guy I would go to," he said. "He had a real knack and a super reputation.

"If you ever were hoping to get a break from somebody and Hymie was your counsel, then that was probably the best that you could do… He was a smart guy and he had his position and it always came across as if it made more sense than maybe it should have."

Weinstein has no firm plans for himself in retirement, but "there’s one thing I’m really frightened about."

"I think my wife Shaaron is going to want me to take up golf or bridge — neither of which appeals to me."

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.