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Goldlist defends criminal charges with commanding courtroom style

Jordana Goldlist does not back down easily.

The Toronto criminal defence lawyer is known for her strategic and commanding courtroom style. 

“I don’t give up,” she says. “I’m quick to challenge. I’m quick to assert my clients’ rights.”

A one-time homeless street youth, Goldlist has a deep empathy for the often marginalized defendants who turn to her for help. 

“They're not just a file. They’re people,” says the principal of JHG Criminal Law. “There's a story, a whole background that led them to the position that they're in.”

Goldlist is highly critical of the hierarchical nature of the justice system for the way it automatically confers respect upon judges and lawyers while placing defendants at the bottom of the heap.

 “Our system, in a lot of ways, is designed to keep people stuck inside it,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com

Goldlist focuses her practice on defending such charges as murder, robbery and home invasion, as well as those involving drugs and firearms. She has a string of victories under her belt:

  • She succeeded in having a mistrial declared in Brampton Superior Court for a client accused of importing cocaine. She showed that the court’s Jamaican patois interpreter bungled the translation of her client’s testimony. The Crown later stayed the charges.
  • In the case of a Toronto woman accused of firearms and drug offences, Goldlist successfully challenged a search warrant, leading to the withdrawal of all charges, and she was able to reclaim 19 firearms and $250,000 in cash seized by police. 
  • At the trial of a Hamilton man accused of fatally stabbing his friend, Goldlist convinced a jury to acquit him of second-degree murder, though he was found guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter.  

Having seen as an 8-year-old Toronto girl one of her own family members wrongly accused of a crime, Goldlist has experienced first-hand the devastating effects the justice system can have on a person’s life. 

“If I can fix that or help that person, it feels good,” she says. 

Winning is important but, regardless of the outcome, lawyers must ensure their clients receive the best possible defence and that the Crown is rigorously put to the burden of proof, Goldlist says.

“I owe that to the system. I owe that to my own beliefs,” she says. “I owe it to that 8-year-old girl who was watching my family go through hell.”

It was that childhood experience that first inspired her to be a lawyer. She was in awe of the prominent defence attorney hired by her family. Everything stopped in her house when he phoned, she recalls. “I wanted that voice,” she writes in “Who Judges The Judge?” an article published by the Huffington Post

At age 16, Goldlist took a detour, dropping out of high school and living as a homeless Toronto street youth, learning first-hand how it feels to be on society’s lower rungs. 

By age 19, however, she decided to resume her education. She moved back in with her parents and finished high school while working as a youth outreach worker for the CAMH Foundation. 

The next step was York University, where she studied on a full academic scholarship and earned a BA in philosophy. The law kept calling out to her, however, and she entered Osgoode Hall law school in 2004.

She initially practised civil law, at her family’s urging, and articled with Landy Marr Kats LLP, a business law firm. She liked the firm and stayed three years.

It was a dinner with her cousin, criminal defence lawyer Leora Shemesh, that tipped her toward the criminal bar. As Goldlist discussed her civil law work, Shemesh interrupted her, saying, “’I am bored listening to you. You have to be bored practising this.’

“We started laughing and she said, ‘You've got to make the switch. You're built for criminal defence.’ And she was right,” Goldlist recalls. 

She soon landed a job with Ted Royle’s new criminal law firm, Edward H. Royle & Associates. 

“I loved it. I was completely interested in the subject matter that I was dealing with. I was meeting with clients and there was an easy rapport between us. I found they were opening up to me,” Goldlist says. 

From the start, Royle gave her challenging cases and was a great mentor. “Ted's a brilliant lawyer and if you want to learn, he is a fantastic teacher,” she says. 

After five years, Goldlist left to open her own practice, JHG Criminal Law.

She particularly enjoys defending homicide cases, which increasingly fill her calendar. “They’re stressful. They’re fast-paced. The risks involved are so huge,” she says.

She also enjoys defending accused facing robbery, home invasion and drug charges, where she often uses the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to challenge how police obtained their evidence.

An avid recreational gun shooter, Goldlist is quick to spot the weaknesses in firearm evidence used against her clients.  

She is also a keen CrossFitter and body builder, bolstering her stamina for difficult trials.

An active volunteer, Goldlist is a youth mentor with Covenant House shelter and a speaker/moderator at Grant House Addictions Treatment Centre. She is also a former board member of Street Haven women’s shelter.

Success, for Goldlist, is more than just winning in court. 

“Success is as much about what a client does after you finish their case,” she says. “I've had clients call me years later to say, ‘I've done really well for myself or my family. If it wasn't for you, I would still be in jail. Thank you so much.’ Success means having a positive or profound effect on someone's life, regardless of the verdict." 

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