15 July 2005

Pull the other one, Steve Marshall...

It's got bells on it.

The man accused of beating Premier Danny Williams' son (also called Danny Williams) was acquitted this week amid accusations that the Premier and his officials had improperly interfered in the police investigation into the case and the subsequent prosecution.

Little surprise therefore that the family lawyer, and the Prem's former law partner, Steve Marshall is rushing forward to say two things:

1. In an interview in the Telly on Thursday, Marshall acknowledged that Danny Williams the Elder called the police at about 0400 on the morning after the assault. According to Marshall, the Prem wanted to ask the police what the procedure was in this case.

That's where I first yelled bullshit.

If Marshall is to be believed, experienced lawyer Danny Williams, Queen's Counsel, a guy who has represented numerous civil and criminal defendants over the years was suddenly struck stupid. He apparently forgot the procedure one should follow (or that the police should follow) after someone beats the crap out of your adult son.

The story would be plain bullshit if Williams was still just a downtown lawyer.

But, when the guy is also the Premier of the province, Marshall's story turns into something else entirely - more like finely aged bovine excreta.

Not only was Williams ignorant of the law and police procedure, according to Marshall but he also decided that apparently it didn't matter that he was the Queen's first minister in the province and that maybe a call to the local cops might not put their whole system a bit out of whack.

If Marshall is to be believed, the Premier sees nothing wrong with having the Premier of the province picking up the phone and calling the local cops. This is normal, in Marshall's world, and then everyone just goes back to Tim's.

Even if the Prem's call was really, golly gee, just to see what to do next, apparently neither Williams then nor Marshall now think for one tiny instant that maybe, just maybe, the constable that answered the phone might be forced to change his underpants because Williams - the frickin' Premier - was speaking with him personally about a police investigation, underway or pending. The tone of the call was likely not calm, incidentally, if the Premier's reputed mercurial temper was in full bloom at the time.

Now to be fair, had Williams and his lawyer stuck to a more plausible line to try and deflect attention from the political attack the Prem is facing over the call, they might just have been believed. (Lesson learned: Never hire lawyers to handle public relations.)

After all, the police are supposed to take an attack on any Premier or his family damned seriously. I wouldn't want it any other way. Had the Premier been right in his conspiracy theory and adult son Danny got the crap kicked out of him for political reasons, then we should expect the local constab to drop everything and put an end to violence that has a huge political taint to it.

I'd expect the Chief of Police to take notice, for the case to be assigned to Major Crimes and, when it gets to the Crown prosecutor's office, that it is handled by the SPU. That's the Special Prosecutions Unit where the top prosecutors go. It's a sensible approach for a whole bunch of reason.

But here's the problem.

Williams and Marshall are telling an implausible story.

The political thing was bullshit from the start.

The Premier screwed up big-time.

Not only did he - the Premier - threaten people/make false public accusations, he made the call to the cops. Marshall admitted it and his explanation is as unbelievable as the testimony of three guys who were so hammered on the night of the assault they likely had trouble standing up straight.

Even if it was an innocent call, it was grossly inappropriate and that's why he shouldn't have done it. Report it to the cops - better yet have your principal assistant do it - and let them call you back. Keep the Premier himself and the Office as far from the investigation as possible. He ain't just - and never was - Danny from the Block, as much as the Premier has tried to deploy that silly excuse in recent days.

Keep the Premier directly out of it. That's the rule. At the very least, that keeps the process clean so there can be no accusation of impropriety. And there can no genuine impropriety because, trust me, when the Premier of the province calls anyone out there, they sit up and take notice. Add some 'tude to the call and you can imagine how easily someone might start thinking that heads will roll if someone isn't strung up for the beating.

Besides, if Danny Williams doesn't get it that the office he holds carries power, then he is simply a fool. I don't believe he is a fool and he shouldn't treat you and me like one either.

That leads us to:

2. Marshall's claim, seen here for example, that there is some indication that the witnesses who switched from their sworn statements to their original statements - i.e. "I was too drunk to recall my own name, officer" - might have been intimidated into switching their stories.

Given the sequence of events, I am disinclined to believe this claim on three grounds.

First, it surfaced after the Prem was accused of impropriety in his dealings with the police.

That's a bit too convenient for my taste. It smacks of an old tactic the Prem is fond of - distraction. It's just like his constant claims of conspiracy whenever something happens that doesn't look good for him.

Son assaulted - conspiracy (Lone assailant, allegedly, but Danny turns it into a political issue by dragging the guy's Mom into it).

Sino-Energy story broken by media after google search - conspiracy (They actually did a google search, Danny. You guys should learn about the Internet.)

Canadians detest his flag stunt - conspiracy of the Liberals comms machine (Oops almost forgot a poll that kicked the crap out of that nonsense, paid for by the Premier's Office.)

But I digress.

Second, the story as presented in court by the two witnesses is plausible - much more than the Williams/Marshall fable. Under oath on a witness stand in a criminal trial, the two individuals, one of whom was the only eyewitness to the events, decided under oath to tell the truth - not what they changed their story to a few days after being contacted by the police.

The judge - the guy who actually sat through all the evidence - didn't think there was a problem here. If Marshall or anyone else had evidence of tampering why wasn't it taken to the police and hence to the Crown on the file for immediate action? In another high profile case recently, the accused found himself facing more charges related to witness tampering before he even got part way into his bail hearing.

Thirdly, Marshall has yet to offer a plausible theory as to why anyone would want to save the accused's ass in the first place. There isn't any obvious reason and Marshall hasn't even tried to explain why people would make three, count 'em, three threats for the witnesses to change their story.

It doesn't add up, Steve. It just doesn't add up.

This all looks to me like a series of convenient claims by Williams and his lawyer to draw attention away from what might actually be fairly innocent - i.e. a phone call from the Prem to the cops. Improper yes, and easy to explain, but far from undue interference in the process as the Opposition and others are taking.

With the vigor of their denials and claims, Marshall and Williams lend credence to the idea that there was something highly improper at play here and maybe, just maybe involved the kind of political interference in the judicial process for which someone ought to be tossed from office or maybe sent to jail.

That the Premier decided to drag the accused's family into the matter and repeat the unsubstantiated political angle to the assault is bordering on the reprehensible. Sorry, Danny Senior, it isn't common knowledge that the accused's mom was on a picket line. Besides, how the hell would you know that anyway if you weren't keeping close tabs on the whole matter?

While a day ago I thought this story would blow over, I am now of the opinion that this entire file should be handed over to a judicial inquiry immediately.

The next best option would be to call in the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and commit to making the entire OPP report made public.

At the very least, release the audio tapes and transcripts of any and all calls the Premier made to the police on this matter.

Now that the case is finished in court, maybe the local media will start interviewing people who were involved in this matter directly or indirectly. Lots of other details - long rumoured - might burble to the surface and be confirmed or dismissed.

But one thing is certain: the truth will eventually come out.

It's just a matter of time.