A prominent Kitchener, Ont., defence lawyer has been charged with obstructing justice. Police say Hal Mattson, who once represented Michael Rafferty, one of the accused in the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford of Woodstock, Ont., tried to influence witness testimony in an attempted murder case.
Waterloo Regional Police Service spokesman Olaf Heinzel says police received a complaint in October during the preliminary stage of a criminal trial for five people charged with attempted murder and drug offences last year related to a shooting in Cambridge, Ont.
Mattson didn’t represent any of the accused when the alleged obstruction occurred but was involved in the case at one time. While he won’t comment on the charges, he says he’s looking forward to defending himself.
“In my own head, I’m certainly thinking about it quite a bit,” he says. “One of the most frustrating things is you really want to talk to people about it and you’d really like to say what you feel but you can’t.”
The Cambridge case wrapped up on Nov. 9 with three of the accused pleading guilty to aggravated assault. A fourth person pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact, while charges against the fifth were withdrawn.
That same afternoon, police made their move on Mattson, picking him up inside a Tim Hortons coffee shop across the street from the Kitchener courthouse.
According to Mattson, four detectives approached him with a warning that more were standing by. They then took him outside while handcuffed and carted him away to the nearest police station.
The public nature of the arrest irritated Mattson, especially given that police were eventually willing to release him on a promise to appear.
“I thought it was unnecessary to arrest me in a public place, put handcuffs on me, and hold me for three-and-a-half hours,” Mattson says. “The police have their tactics, and I’m not sure why.”
Mattson feels police could have approached him in private or asked him by phone to go to the police station, but Heinzel defends officers’ actions as an effort to try to be consistent in the way they arrest suspects.
“Police do what they need to do to ensure that somebody is taken into custody safely,” he says. “It’s not unusual to do arrests like that, although it’s not as common to be arresting someone who’s fairly known in the community.
"It was done smoothly and without incident, and if he has concerns about how it was handled, we do have a complaint process.”
Since then, Mattson says he has tried to adopt a business-as-usual approach by representing clients as normal and attending court every day.
“I’m getting through the days, but it’s a little tough,” he says. “The difficulty I’m having is the same problem everybody has when they’re charged with an offence.
It causes them a little consternation. It’s always worrisome when you’re put before the court system.
“I know that from having been a criminal lawyer for 25 years.”
The episode has changed Mattson’s perspective on the experiences of clients who come to him for help, he notes. “I have a new-found understanding of how people feel when they’re being arrested and put through the process I was.
Because we do the job every day, we just assume it’s nothing. But having been through it, I think there’s a lot of people who are in positions of authority who would gain a lot of understanding of how arrested persons feel if this happened to them.”
Mattson says he has been pleased with the reaction by fellow members of the Kitchener bar to his arrest. “I’m sure some of them are a little tentative because of the adversarial roles we play every day, but overall, I think people have been very supportive of me.”
Kitchener prosecutor Bill Wilson says the Crown turned Mattson’s file over to the regional Crown office in London, Ont., because of the accused lawyer’s long involvement with the local bar.
“It’s a conflict,” Wilson says. “He works here and he has for years.”
Mattson represented Rafferty for about six weeks from the time of his arrest in connection with Stafford’s murder.
But after relations between the pair broke down, they parted ways. “We came to a fork in the path that wouldn’t allow us to represent him, and I don’t think he would have appreciated our representation, unfortunately,” Mattson says. “Our solicitor communication had broken down.”
Mattson, who has also represented suspected gang members and defendants in complex cases, says the one that led to his arrest was much more straightforward.
“There’s nothing really unusual about the case and the role of the lawyer in my opinion. It wasn’t like some sort of Hells Angels case with a secret informant. There was nothing unusual.”
At the same time, Mattson believes the complaint has nothing to do with his reputation and relatively high profile in the region. “I don’t believe there’s any maliciousness in this and I’d be very disappointed if that’s the case.”
Mattson is scheduled to appear in the Ontario Court of Justice on Dec. 8.