Did the mayor of Canada's largest city smoke crack cocaine? The question lingered for a full week before Mayor Rob Ford finally issued his public denial that he used crack cocaine or was addicted to it. The prolonged delay seemed inexplicable.
The mayor and his circle of advisors had to be acutely aware that as each day passed with no reply, accompanied by the mayor's evasion of curious reporters, there was a growing public suspicion of hidden evidence that incriminated the mayor. It affected the mayor's ability to conduct the city's business and dominated the news cycle every day. It inspired ridicule from late night comedians and turned the sensational story into an international scandal.
Why didn't the mayor issue his denial sooner? He had never demonstrated any reluctance to defiantly challenge his accusers in the past. The mayor is a pitbull, not a puppy.
At his press conference at Toronto City Hall where the mayor gave his first public statement about the crack cocaine controversy, Rob Ford revealed the reason for his silence:
''For the past week, on the advice of my solicitors, I was advised not to say a word.''
And with that one clear sentence, the responsibility had been firmly passed to the mayor's counsel. Blame my lawyer. The advice of 'not to say a word' implied that the mayor wasn't even permitted to issue a brief press release, denying the allegations. He couldn't even stand on a podium and assert his innocence. It was also unclear if the lawyer's advice had shifted after a week had passed and Mayor Ford had ignored his counsel.
It seemed a bewildering strategy for a lawyer to employ, where a persistent pattern of silence was so obviously corrosive to his client who lived each day under intense scrutiny.
Assuming that the mayor spoke the truth about the legal advice he was given, the perplexing question surrounds the possible reason that any lawyer would suggest to his client to maintain a strategy of silence. It wasn't the case that the client would be providing fodder for a possible prosecution with a denial. Mayor Ford wasn't facing a criminal charge.
There wasn't a conceivable chance that the mayor could be charged, even if the video of him apparently smoking crack cocaine did eventually surface. It could never meet the high standard of proof required in a criminal case for a conviction.
The most obvious answer to the mystery was that Ford's lawyer didn't act with acumen and skill and failed his client. The poor client would be the victim of horrible legal advice and would be absolved from blame. However, in this particular case, flawed legal representation can be ruled out. Rob Ford's lawyer is an experienced and highly qualified lawyer. He wouldn't make such a glaring blunder.
Why then would a skilled legal practitioner advise his client to remain silent? We will never have the definitive answer, because solicitor-client privilege prohibits any lawyer from disclosing a confidence from his client. However, in general terms, lawyers instruct their clients to be vigilant and keep quiet about their matter for one principle reason; it could harm their case or legal position.
For example, they may offer a statement that could later be contradicted. They may have disclosed to the lawyer damaging background information about their case that should never be revealed to the public. The client may also have candidly admitted to criminal or questionable conduct.
Mayor Ford's lawyer determined after meeting with his client to exercise the caution flag and instruct his client to be resolutely silent. The mayor chose to abide by the advice under mounting pressure to resist it for a period of one week. It was, in reality, a measured and not a capricious decision. Rob Ford's lawyer is deserving of no blame.