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Wpg Free Press: Tributes pour in for ‘defence lawyer’s defence lawyer’

Winnipeg criminal court legend Greg Brodsky dies at 81

February 24, 2022 — 

The Winnipeg Free Press shared news of the passing of legendary criminal defence lawyer Greg Brodsky, Q.C. [LL.B./63] on Feb. 10, 2022 in the following story by Kevin Rollason:

A Winnipeg lawyer for nearly six decades, Greg Brodsky represented more than 1,000 clients in murder and manslaughter cases.

His list of clients included headline-makers: Thomas Sophonow, Darren Morrissette, Robert Starr, and James Driskell. His work changed laws, including ones which help protect women who killed their spouses after years of suffering domestic abuse.

And the direction of his legal career came down to a flip of a coin.

Brodsky died Wednesday at 81, after a battle with supranuclear palsy.

Brodsky’s son Daniel, himself a defence counsel practicing in Toronto, said his dad (called to the bar in 1963) had been working at the Winnipeg Stock Exchange for two months, when his bosses contacted prominent criminal lawyer Harry Walsh.

“They said, we think he has an aptitude for criminal law,” Daniel said Thursday. “(Walsh) said he’ll talk with him.

“Greg and Hersh Wolch were hired at the same time, and (Walsh) said we’ll hire both of you but one of you will be criminal and the other civil — I will flip a coin to decide.”

As a result, Brodsky went on to be involved in more than 1,000 homicide cases (Daniel believes it ended up being 1,040). Wolch later went on to become a defence lawyer, too.

“Did he have any regrets?” said Daniel. “He’d say: if I choose the time to go it would be after my address to the jury and before I get the verdict.

“For more than 50 years, he had people say: you won’t win this case… He just loved the opportunity to turn the tide.”

Brodsky was born in Saskatchewan and moved to Winnipeg with his family as a child. He later met his wife, Sylvia, and they were married Dec. 29, 1957. They were together for almost 62 years when she died in 2019.

When Brodsky was called to the bar, he was just 22 and the death penalty was still an option for homicide cases.

Brodsky was the junior lawyer on his first homicide case.

Winnipeg police detective Ron Houston was on a stakeout in June 1970 for a sex assault suspect, when he was fatally stabbed by Thomas Shand.

Shand took the officer’s gun and shot him, also firing at and missing another officer. Later that year, Shand was found guilty.

“He got to hear his client was going to be hanged,” said Daniel. “It was later commuted to life imprisonment.”

Daniel said his dad always worked hard on cases and was working on future ones, even when he was waiting for a jury verdict.

“There was always one rule in the house,” said Daniel. “You can do what you want to do, but not halfway. Don’t do anything halfway. Do what you love.”

While Brodsky was synonymous with representing people charged with homicide, for a number of years, Brodsky represented pro-choice advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler during his push to convince the federal government to legalize abortions in Canada.

He even represented Bertha Rand, known as Winnipeg’s cat lady, who was charged numerous times in the 1960s and 1970s with having too many felines in her St. James neighbourhood house.

The province recognized Brodsky’s contributions to law, appointing him a Queen’s Counsel in 1977.

Outside the courtroom, Brodsky was a president of Skills Unlimited and Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.

Veteran lawyer Robert Tapper, who knew Brodsky for more than 50 years, said his death was “the end of an era.”

Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said Brodsky’s death also marks a time “where these lions of the bar, as they were, are beginning to pass.”

“There has seldom been a murder case in the city for a long time where the name Greg Brodsky wasn’t in some way associated with it… He was dogged, hard, hard working. He could be annoying in his insistence and sometimes ponderous approach to detail, but he didn’t distinguish between cases. He would work as hard on a seemingly banal and mundane case as he would, some would consider, a much more exotic and serious case,” Joyal said.

“I had great respect for his integrity and ethical approach to his practice…. He really was old-school honest.”

Defence counsel James Lockyer, a founding director of what is now known as Innocence Canada, said: “Greg was the defence lawyer’s defence lawyer… He lived it, breathed it, loved it, enjoyed it.”

“He is one of those who you know would never have prosecuted anyone and would never have wanted to be a judge. He always wanted to be there defending people, ideally in front of a jury if he could. There will never be anyone like him, certainly not in Manitoba and probably not in Canada,” Lockyer said.

Read the full story at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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