Two Ontario Liberals were acquitted of Election Act bribery charges Tuesday in a case the party and one of the defendants called politically motivated from the start.
Judge Howard Borenstein concluded no reasonable jury could find them guilty, granting a directed verdict application from the defence that called for the charges to be dismissed before the defence called any witnesses.
That means the case has been dismissed against Pat Sorbara, who was Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s deputy chief of staff and Liberal campaign director, and local Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed.
Sorbara and Lougheed were accused of offering would-be candidate Andrew Olivier a job or appointment to step aside for Wynne’s preferred candidate in a 2015 byelection in Sudbury, Ont.
But the judge found Olivier never could have been the candidate because Wynne had already decided to appoint Glenn Thibeault – then the NDP MP and now the energy minister – so Sorbara and Lougheed could not be found guilty for inducing Olivier to refrain from becoming a candidate.
Sorbara also faced a second charge, alleging that she bribed Thibeault to become the candidate by arranging for paid jobs on the byelection campaign for two of his constituency staff. But the judge said he can’t see why agreeing to employ two qualified people would be detrimental to the electoral process.
Bribery involves some element of dishonesty, Borenstein said, and nothing in the facts of that charge could be characterized as bribery.
WATCH: Gerry Lougheed says dismissal in bribery case a ‘great relief’
The case was a politically charged one from the start, spawning endless opposition attacks against the Liberals and sparking the threat of a defamation lawsuit.
A statement from the Ontario Liberals said Sorbara is being welcomed back to the election campaign team.
“We regret that vindictive Opposition demands for prosecutionput these two innocent people through an ordeal of almost three years in order to defend themselves and their reputations,” the
WATCH: Pat Sorbara thanks Liberal ‘family’ for their support during trial
Lougheed said there was no doubt in his mind that the political element was a “great motivator” in why the case went to trial at all.
His lawyer, Michael Lacy, noted there was a great deal of political pressure surrounding the case.
“If I was a citizen – as I am in Ontario, like the rest of us are – I’d be wondering why this case, the money (that) went into this case, why it was wasted on the investigation and wasted on this prosecution,” he said outside court.
WATCH: Greenspan: Bribery charges against Sorbara shouldn’t have been brought
“So obviously it’s a very happy day for Gerry, but it’s a day that never should have been. He never should have been subjected to these allegations to begin with.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown issued a statement moments after the acquittals saying the case is “one part of a consistent pattern of political corruption.”
“We’re worried about what they’ve been able to keep hidden and are fearful of what scandal will come next,” he wrote.