Criminal Law

Ghomeshi's lawyer faced unfair criticism: Presser

Toronto criminal lawyer Jill Presser tells ET Canada that Marie Henein, the lawyer who defended former broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi on sexual assault and choking charges, faced unfair criticism because she’s a woman who is “unapologetically” effective in the courtroom.

“She’s been treated as something of an oddity,” says Presser, who’s known Henein for more than 20 years. “And it is disappointing that, in this day and age, a woman who’s unapologetically strong and powerful and effective in the courtroom is a figure who draws so much attention.”

During the high-profile trial in February, Henein defended Ghomeshi, former host of the CBC radio program Q, on four charges of sexual assault and one charge of overcoming resistance to choking. On March 24, a judge found Ghomeshi not guilty on all charges.

The charges against Ghomeshi relate to accusations from three women who alleged they took place from 2002 to 2003. The identities of two of the complainants are protected under a publication ban. Actress and air force captain Lucy DeCouture went to court to get the ban lifted for her.

Leading up to the trial, media coverage focused on Heinen’s reputation as a cutthroat defence lawyer — and as a fashionista.

“A woman should be able to be both brilliant . . . and hot,” Presser says.

During the trial, Henein grilled the three complainants, challenging their credibility, but did not ask them about the alleged assault. The defence produced evidence showing that the first two complainants contacted Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults.

Henein faced unfair criticism on social media for her tactics and cross-examination, Presser says.

“We would never accuse a man lawyer cross-examining a man witness or complainant of being a gender traitor,” Presser says. “Why should a woman be considered a gender traitor because she’s cross-examining another woman?”

In the interview, she says Henein has been supportive of other women throughout her career, including Presser herself, who met Henein back in 1994 when Presser was articling.

“Marie was already a lawyer at the time so she could give a little guidance and insight," she says.

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