The high-profile lawyer who was expected to represent disgraced fashion mogul Peter Nygard in a criminal case in Winnipeg is withdrawing from the position for "ethical reasons," he said.
Brian Greenspan told Manitoba provincial court Judge Stacy Cawley over the phone from Toronto Friday there was "an irreconcilable breakdown in the solicitor-client relationship," characterizing it as "adversarial."
"This is the first time in the 50 years I've practised law that I've made an application, a formal application, to be removed from the record," he said.
"In my view, [I] have a professional obligation both to the court and to the Crown, once there has been a breakdown in the solicitor-client relationship, to advise the court and the Crown in a timely fashion and to be removed from the record in a timely fashion."
Nygard was found guilty of four counts of sexual assault in Toronto in November, with Greenspan representing him. The assaults happened over a timespan from the late 1980s to about 2005, in the private bedroom suite of Nygard's office building in downtown Toronto.
In an affidavit read by Cawley in court, Seth Weinstein, a partner at Greenspan's firm, said a "number of issues" had arisen in discussions between Greenspan and Nygard, and Greenspan believes it would be a breach of his professional obligations if he didn't withdraw.
Brian Greenspan says this is the first time in his 50-year career he's applied to withdraw from a case. (Tijana Marti/The Canadian Press)
Nygard told the judge via phone call from the Toronto South Detention Centre that Greenspan should have waited until he had another lawyer in place to withdraw from the case.
He said he did not want to have any kind of court appearance without counsel present.
Greenspan 'wasting the court's time,' Nygard says
The Winnipeg court case is related to offences allegedly committed in 1993, involving a woman who was then 20 years old. The woman alleges Nygard held her captive and raped her after inviting her to a modelling job.
Nygard faces sexual assault and forcible confinement charges. The trial date has not been set.
In an email read by Greenspan, Nygard said the lawyer was "needlessly wasting the court's time and building up his expense bill" by engaging in an "open conflict," when Nygard was trying to solve things in an "amicable and professional manner."
Weinstein's affidavit said it couldn't provide further details without breaching solicitor-client privilege, but that the decision "does not relate to the non-payment of fees."
Greenspan said he would make the transition to a new lawyer at no extra cost to Nygard, and he would send his team's entire file related to the case to Nygard and his future counsel.
The judge said Nygard's concerns were not relevant to the application, and granted the withdrawal.
"I note as well for Mr. Nygard's benefit that the timing of this application is actually to his benefit in that it allows him substantial time, not only to secure retaining new counsel, but full preparation for the matter should it be set for trial," Cawley said.
When Greenspan represented Nygard last year in Toronto, he faced five counts of sexual assault and one of forcible confinement. He was acquitted of the confinement charge and one sexual assault charge.
Five other charges were dropped before jury selection.
On Wednesday morning, an application by Greenspan to sever ties with his client before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice — where Nygard is still awaiting sentencing — was granted. He faces up to 10 years in prison in Ontario.
Peter Nygard, clockwise from bottom left, Justice Robert Goldstein, defence lawyer Brian Greenspan, the jury, Ana Serban and Neville Golwalla attend Nygard's sexual assault trial in Toronto on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. (Alexandra Newbould/The Canadian Press)
He also faces criminal charges in Quebec and New York, and an extradition order to the U.S. to face the latter charges.
Greenspan's withdrawal does not affect the case in Quebec, where Nygard is represented by francophone lawyers.
Withdrawals happen 'all the time,' lawyer says
Chris Gamby, communications director for the Criminal Defence Lawyer's Association of Manitoba, didn't want to comment on the specifics of the Nygard case, but said withdrawals like this could happen for "just about any reason" and at any stage of the legal proceedings.
"A lot of times, you know, you may hear from a client that they no longer want you to represent them," Gamby said.
"Other times, the lawyer may have some concerns about what is happening in that particular case with that client. It may be that the client is requesting that they take steps that really aren't in their best interests anymore, or they may ask that they do something that that lawyer might deem to be unethical or improper."
Chris Gamby, communications director for the Criminal Defence Lawyer's Association of Manitoba, says withdrawals can happen at any stage of legal proceedings. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)
Gamby said withdrawals "happen all the time."
Other possible reasons he outlined include conflicts of interest, major disagreements on how the defence should be conducted, or a lawyer feeling they can't adequately represent their client anymore.
Disagreement over fees is not a reason a lawyer would ever put on record, but that "it might very well be a reason for a breakdown in a relationship with a client."
Nygard has been in custody since December 2020, when he was arrested at a Winnipeg home on a provisional warrant issued on behalf of American prosecutors.
He has consistently denied all allegations against him.