Rob Ford vs. Clayton Ruby

’I don’t recall,’ was the mantra during Toronto Mayor’s day in courtroom 6-1
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford walks out for a lunch break during his court appearance in Toronto, Wednesday, September 5, 2012. Mayor Ford faced an Ontario judge Wednesday to defend himself against a conflict of interest allegation that could see him kicked out of office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford walks out for a lunch break during his court appearance in Toronto, Wednesday, September 5, 2012. Mayor Ford faced an Ontario judge Wednesday to defend himself against a conflict of interest allegation that could see him kicked out of office. (Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press)

There was this morning a certain Inherit the Wind anticipation in the atmosphere outside courtroom 6-1, atop Toronto’s 361 University Ave. courthouse.

Above the crush of gathered reporters, the Buddy Holly-spectacle-wearing blogistas with jauntily disheveled hair and ironic ties, and the just plain morbidly curious, there was the sense that cross-examination sparks would soon fly, that a great legal mind would scalpel the fat from the muscle of truth or that–just maybe–Mayor Rob Ford would unleash himself on Clayton Ruby, LL.B, LL.M., for the gleeful benefit of anti-swell fantasists and pro-willful-ignorance enthusiasts everywhere.

Spencer Tracy vs. Frederic March? Well, not in the end. Instead it was something like what the Scopes trial would have been had the monkey actually taken the stand.

In the course of his testimony before a packed courtroom Ford repeatedly said he could not recollect–“I don’t recall,” he said, and often–even recent events and appeared to struggle to understand Ruby’s queries–“I’m not clear on the question” or “Is that a statement or a question you’re asking me?”

Clay Ruby, the son of a self-made Toronto pulp-magazine publisher named Lou, arrived on the scene first, the part of his thinning white hair like a red dart shot across his scalp. Ruby has a habit of allowing his lower lip to jut out while surveying the courtroom, giving him the look of a proprietor overseeing his domain; today it was the place where he planned to dismantle Ford, the son of a self-made Toronto label-printing mogul and Progressive Conservative MPP.

The mayor made his entrance from a side door, a court officer before him, another at his rear, lending his appearance the drama of a classic perp walk (he later ran from news photographers outside when court broke for lunch).

Ford presented himself here as part of a lawsuit that charges he contravened the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act in February, when he delivered an impassioned speech in chambers asking councillors to vote to free him of a requirement that he pay back $3,150 in donations made by lobbyists and a corporate donor to his Rob Ford Football Foundation, which gives sporting equipment to needy kids. After his speech, Ford went ahead and voted on the motion himself.

Ruby and Ruby’s client Paul Magder, who filed the complaint against the mayor, say that vote put Ford in a conflict of interest–an accusation the mayor denies, in large part because the city solicitor and city clerk did not alert him to the conflict.

This isn’t just an academic question: Should the judge find in favour of the Ruby camp, Ford could lose his job.

The mayor, furrowing his brow at Ruby’s multi-clause sentences and nibbling the inside of his lower lip, also admitted to making little effort to learning the ins-and-outs and responsibilities of his job. He did not attend an orientation for new councillors when he was first elected because, he said, he is the son of a former MPP and knows how government works–“I didn’t think I needed to”–and he could not remember ever receiving a handbook on the job distributed to members of council.

Ruby meticulously unfolded his examination, a chessmaster who even gave the impression he was purposefully delaying proceedings by scaring up lost court documents to exasperate Ford, who for the most part looked on implacably. “Sir,” the mayor permitted himself to scowl at one point, “with all due respect, I don’t even know what page we’re on.”

At times Ruby appeared to struggle to make himself understood to the mayor, who looked at Ruby as though in wonder at the extent of his opponent’s exertions. And there were some grade-school moments. When Ruby instructed him to read the top two lines of a document the mayor stopped abruptly at the word “the” and told Ruby: “That’s the top two lines.”

Elsewhere Ford told the court: “I’ve never read that before,” after Ruby read from another document. “You had to have read it,” Ruby exclaimed, saying the same passage had come up during a previous examination, when Ruby had similarly read it aloud. “You read it to me, but I’ve never read it,” said Ford with some satisfaction.

Throughout, Ford met Ruby’s suggestions that his participation in the February vote put him in a conflict of interest by reiterating his own avowed understanding of the concept: “I don’t believe I was in a conflict of interest,” he told court more than once. “It takes two parties to have a conflict and in this case”–there was just the mayor.

Ford maintains that he believes that conflicts of interest arise only when there in financial benefit to both a member of councillor and the city, and he holds to that conviction stubbornly and in defiance of much evidence to the contrary. Ruby, whose explorations of the Rob Ford Football Foundation could at times make it seem as though Ruby puts the organization in the same nefarious league as Watergate’s Committee to Re-elect the President, suggested that that has never been Ford’s understanding of conflicts of interest, and that his present explanation is a smokescreen to cover up his defiance of Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner, from whose report the present court accusations spring.

“That wouldn’t stop me from running my foundation and helping kids out,” Ford told Ruby, who’d suggested a lack of protocols in his office designed to prevent conflicts of interest made it likely they would one day arise.

Ford took every opportunity to tout the foundation’s work. Perhaps his heart is in the right place. The judge may well find the vote he cast last February was not.

Meanwhile, Ford’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, sat for the day in the gallery. Where? “Stage left,” one spectator told another. It was a day of theatre.