Justice Denise Bellamy called him up in 2002 to see if he'd like to act as lead
counsel in the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry (better known as the MFP
inquiry), he knew it was one of those opportunities he couldn't pass up.
thought it was going to take about a year, which is a long time in my business
to be away. So it was all 'I don't know' and reservations, etc., but everyone I
spoke with who had acted as counsel said it was quite the experience," he told
Law Times in an exclusive interview.
inquiry took almost three years to conclude, heard 156 witnesses, and saw
124,000 pages of documents at a cost of $19.2 million to probe into the
dealings of MFP Financial Services and the City of Toronto.
so entirely different from anything you've ever done as a counsel because the
judge and counsel actually set up the organizational structure of the inquiry
including looking at space for the inquiry, hiring all manner of people from
communications people to technical people," Manes said from his downtown
Toronto office at Torkin Manes LLP.
soup to nuts, you're setting up an entire organization. . . . Fortunately,
Justice Bellamy has a considerable background in government service and had a
real appreciation of the challenges we had to face in terms of setting up the
those mechanics were in place, which took about four months, how did Manes
prepare for the inquiry itself?
like to tell you that it was just like how you go about a trial, but it really
wasn't because the context is different. Here commission counsel are
investigators and that investigation is conducted in private and it's conducted
in public at the hearing portion. So that is completely different than a
typical barrister position where the investigations are done, if you're
defence, by the adjusters, you pick up the brief, and go prepare some
witnesses. It's not like that. You are an investigator."
public inquiries are watched through the media by the public, Manes says
commission counsel were instructed to speak with the media as often as possible
about issues they could comment on. They welcomed the coverage and tried to
make the process as easy and transparent as possible.
in that almost transparent atmosphere added a very new dimension. I had been
involved in a number of trials that attracted media attention but never
something that attracted such continual and knowledgeable attention by the
media. The media was well familiar with these issues, especially the Toronto media."
length of any inquiry can be hard to predict, but Manes says when you
investigate one issue it may lead to another or even to matters not within the
inquiry's jurisdiction. The commission also discovered information that
required an adjournment for a criminal investigation.
of those things could ever be foreseen and those considerably extended the
commission. In addition, during the course of this we had an employee of the
city who felt that she had been threatened by the city for her possible
participation," he says. "There's nothing in your terms of reference about such
things but we had to fully investigate that over a couple of weeks and we spent
a week on that at the hearing.
are the kind of turns and twists that you just cannot predict."
says because Bellamy and her counsel worked so closely together and for such a
long period of time, it was important that they got along. Manes got to know
Bellamy when the two sat as Law Society of Upper Canada benchers together, and
says that relationship helped them work through various challenges.
are dark days. There are very dark days especially in the glare of public
scrutiny. And there are a lot of tests to those relationships. The relationship
not only has to be able to deal with those but there is a constant need for
communication and, you know as well as I do, communication is never perfect but
as much as you can we talked day and night. And when I say days, we're talking
about sometimes those days would begin at 5 a.m. and sometimes those nights
would go on to very late," he says.
is very, very complicated and you can see as I go along why the stress level
must be so great. You are communicating with so many people and there are so
many agendas and so many different concerns and so many different interests,
let alone your own most altruistic interest in the public interest that I found
that the stress far exceeded anything that I've ever did in the private
says the challenge to his physical condition caused by the stress of the
inquiry was enormous. He wasn't eating well, he wasn't sleeping well, and the
long hours were taking their toll on him.
day, after a day in the hearing room, the commissioner said to me 'You know
Ron, you look like hell' and this was after a particularly hard round of
examinations. . . . and it was true.
convinced me to start working out and basically she said it's the only way to
keep your mind clear, to energize your body and your mind, and keep balanced.
So I did, at least three times a week or more. And of all the advice that I got
from anybody, that was really the best advice."
says the inquiry took short breaks here and there, but says the experience was,
in essence, a three-year trial. In fact, Manes says the only real "break" he
took during the inquiry was to do a pro bono case, which eventually led to the
province waiving court fees in civil, small claims, and family proceedings for
just felt it was so important to access to justice and access to the courts and
the case had been with me for awhile that I asked the commissioner for some
time to prepare and argue this case."
Manes didn't want to comment on specific findings of the 1,123-page,
four-volume report with its hundreds of recommendations released earlier this
month, he says it reads well, it's a real page-turner, and the public can
understand it. He says a well-told story is the best way to communicate the
findings and recommendations of a commission.
you can say 'you know what? We succeeded in investigating as best as we
possibly could and we succeeded in communicating the results of that
investigation as best as we possibly could.'
second component is equally important as the first component and it's that
second component that often gets lost, not only in a commission of this kind
but in trials, etc., because that is the end product of everything you've done
behind closed doors and in the hearing room. If you can't communicate what
you've done then it will not have the effect it should. It will not be
everything it should be."
decision to leave his practice for what he thought would be a year was no easy
choice, but Manes says he's finding himself busy with clients again and is
happy not to have to wear a suit day in and day out.
took the position with my eyes wide open. I knew that there would be a real
impact on my practice but at this stage I felt that the opportunity was unique
and important enough to take those risks," he says.
the inquiry is so consumptive of time and attention, anyone who thinks they can
carry on their practice on the side, especially a litigation practice, can't do
it. You simply cannot do it, and should not do it. What I ultimately found, now
that I'm back, after a little while I got very busy again so while you do lose
clients, your relationships continue and ultimately they provide some
sustenance after it's all said and done."
Manes participate in a commission like this again, knowing what he knows now?
"I don't think anybody would — if they knew
that it was going to be the most arduous and taxing process that would take
them away from their practice and, in fact, threaten their practice and
livelihood — easily say 'yes, I would do it again.'
from this experience there are things that come along in your life that are
important enough that you do make sacrifices, whether it's pro bono work or
commission work, sometimes your public interest is more predominant in your
thinking than your private interest.
would I ever do it again? I would do it again where I had that same sense. Even
knowing as much as I know now the answer is 'yes.'"