Those close to Marie Henein say the only thing the high-profile criminal lawyer defends more relentlessly than her clients is the justice system itself.
Henein displayed that commitment to the fairness and transparency of the system this week, friends and colleagues said, as she secured a legal victory for Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.
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After representing Norman for more than two years in a breach of trust case, the charge was stayed Wednesday partially on the strength of information Henein and her team shared with prosecutors.
Those who know the Toronto-based lawyer, who has also successfully defended clients such as former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi and former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, said the Norman case allowed Henein to demonstrate some of the lesser-known skills that have shaped her successful career.
Danielle Robitaille, who began working alongside Henein in 2007 and is now a partner in her law firm, said her mentor brings relentless focus and meticulous preparation to every case she takes on.
WATCH: Lawyer for Vice-Adm. Mark Norman says “it is self-evident” that her client is being made a scapegoat
Underpinning it all, she said, is an implacable desire to secure the best outcome for her clients while maintaining the integrity of the justice system.
“Marie, really at her core, believes in our institutions,” Robitaille said. “She is so proud of our justice system … She is strongly of the view that we have a responsibility, as lawyers, to promote confidence in the administration of justice. And she takes that very, very seriously.”
Henein, who graduated Toronto’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 1989 and went onto earn a Masters in Law from Columbia University two years later, cut her teeth in the firm of storied criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan.
She’s been the principal of her own firm since 2002, and since that time has carved out an increasingly illustrious reputation.
That reputation prompted Robitaille to seek her support and mentorship in 2007 when she was learning to practice criminal law.
She said Henein was extremely generous with her time and expertise, though her “very direct” personality and sense of drive meant feedback was not always delivered gently.
“We weren’t making cupcakes, we were protecting people’s constitutional rights and trying to save people from a loss of liberty,” she said. “There really wasn’t a lot of time to sugar-coat constructive criticism.”
Robitaille said Henein’s style is characterized by rigorous attention to detail in every aspect of a case.
She said her mentor conducts thorough investigations on behalf of her clients, never accepting evidence at face value but seeking independent confirmation for the smallest fact and making sure that she has multiple avenues for proving her points.
Over the years, that approach has helped secure a number of victories.
WATCH: Jian Ghomeshi, Marie Henein depart courthouse following not guilty verdict
One of the most high-profile wins was the acquittal of Ghomeshi, who was cleared on sexual assault charges due largely to Henein’s withering cross-examination of his accusers.
In handing down his decision, Justice William Horkins cited defence questions that exposed sometimes stark inconsistencies in witness accounts and memories, leaving him with reasonable doubt as to whether alleged assaults took place.
Henein also represented former junior hockey coach David Frost, who was acquitted on sexual exploitation charges, and American rapper Ja Rule, who pleaded guilty to an assault charge over a fight at a Toronto nightclub.
Robitaille said Henein also has a largely unsung talent for case resolution, citing instances like Norman’s in which her work ends a matter before it comes to trial.
Another such case took place in 2009 and involved Bryant, who was charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death. Those charges were withdrawn before the case went to trial.
In his memoir, Bryant, now the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said his lawyer seemed to “channel Hannibal Lecter” through her ability to “find a person’s deepest frailties and exploit them.”
Henein’s tough reputation is belied by her generosity, Robitaille said, adding her mentor takes on quite a lot of pro bono work.
She also co-founded the Ontario Inmate Appeal Duty Counsel Program, an initiative that helps people secure legal representation in the province’s top court.
Michael Lacy, President of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, said Henein has also helped back the organization before the Supreme Court of Canada and served as a mentor to several members.
“I can tell you from a personal perspective that her reputation as one of Canada’s top lawyers is very well-deserved,” Lacy said.
He too said her driving principle appears to be a commitment to the integrity of the justice system, a point Henein made herself in a news conference shortly after Norman left court.
“No person in this country should ever walk into a courtroom and feel like they are fighting their elected government or any sort of political factors at all,” she said.
“There are times you agree with what happens in a court, there are times you don’t, and that’s fine. But what you don’t do is you don’t put your finger and try to weigh in on the scales of justice.”