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This is the second in AdvocateDaily.com’s occasional feature series Legal Brief, profiling lawyers in the Toronto area.
By Kayona Lewis
Toronto criminal lawyer Sam Goldstein credits his love of great classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and the Alfred Dreyfus Affair for his interest in becoming a lawyer. With a background as a Crown prosecutor at all levels of the courts in Ontario, Goldstein has used his practice to not only empower himself but to also fight for those who do not have the means to fight for themselves. He sat down with AdvocateDaily from his office at Broadview Law Chambers.
Kayona Lewis: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Sam Goldstein: From Grade One, I seemed to be always sticking up for the kid who was being picked on by the bullies in grade school. I have a vivid memory of staring down this one big kid who was always picking on an autistic boy in my class. The kid easily could have beaten the heck out of me, but I talked my way out of it. I wasn’t cognizant of what I was doing, but thinking back on it, I realize now that I had a strong sense of justice about me that wouldn’t let me back down even in the face of personal injury.
KL: Was it always something that you were passionate about?
SG: There is an anti-establishment streak in all criminal lawyers, as well as distaste for injustice and abuse of authority. I don’t like hypocrisy and I am wary of populism. I love looking at the motto on the bottom of the Royal Coat of Arms hanging behind the judge in most courthouses: Dieu et Mon Droit – give me justice and give me my rights.
KL: Why did you choose criminal law as your focus?
SG: I was inspired by the great classic movies such as To Kill A Mockingbird and the Alfred Dreyfus Affair, later in life the movie The Verdict. I think that romantic notion of righting wrongs, sticking up for the principle of the rule of law against the hanging mentality of the mob is what appealed to me.
KL: I understand that you started your career as an Assistant Crown Attorney. Why did you choose that route?
SG: There is no better training ground for criminal law than starting out on the other side. I got a lot of trial experience in the Crown’s office. Before you can start figuring out how to create a defence, you have to know how to anticipate what the Crown is going to do and its weaknesses.
KL: Which one of your cases has had a lasting effect on your life and the way you handle your practice and future clients?
SG: I was representing this one indigent person in custody. I don’t remember the details but I ignored a request he wanted me to make to the judge. Just before the guards were taking him down to the cells for the break, he turned to me, with teary eyes, and berated me. He said he didn’t have an education and he wasn’t an eloquent person and that was why he relied on me to tell the court what he wanted – even if I thought it was not important because to him it was. I felt so small. After that, I always remember what an honour it is to represent a person no matter who that person is. Of all the lawyers in this city, that person has picked me to be his representative. I won’t forget the lesson he taught me.
KL: Knowing the stress that goes along with criminal proceedings, how do you put your clients at ease and give them confidence in you as their lawyer?
SG: A client has to have confidence in their lawyer. I tell the client the unvarnished truth about their case. I don’t sugarcoat or mince my words. Some people don’t want to hear the truth but I think the client has to know what they are facing in order to make an informed decision. People can sense when you are being truthful. I think it shows the greatest amount of respect.
KL: Is there a case that you wish you could do over?
SG: I don’t know a lawyer who, after the fact, wished he could have done this or that differently. Sure. But you do your best with the knowledge you have at the time you have. While there are cases I might have done differently, I know that at the time I made a decision, it was the right decision. You have to have confidence in yourself.
KL: You have been a guest writer for a few news publications. Do you feel as though you have missed a potential calling in life as a columnist?
SG: I’ve always liked to write. Truthfully, I am a closet thespian. I’ve had some moderate success in theatre as a playwright before law. Perhaps practising criminal law is my way of living out my theatrical nature. I’ve always thought my background in acting helped me in jury trials.
KL: If you were not a lawyer, what would you be?
Prior Legal Brief features: