Criminal Law

Rosen comes full circle with Martin Medal honour

By Randy O'Donnell, Associate Editor

Fearlessness, empathy, curiosity, inventiveness and the right amount of skepticism are key traits of an effective litigator, says Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen, the 2018 recipient of the prestigious G. Arthur Martin Criminal Justice Medal.

These are among the lessons learned that Rosen, founder of Rosen & Company Barristers, shared with members of the Criminal Lawyers Association (CLA) at a gala honouring him with the Martin Medal.

“Unless you have empathy for people, and people who become your clients, you're going to have a hard time being a defence lawyer,” Rosen said during his recent address at the luncheon during the CLA’s annual conference in Toronto.

“You need to be interested in the human condition. After all, that's what the law is all about. There's nothing more real than seeing another person caught up in the legal system.”

Rosen, whose five-decade career includes litigating more than 300 murder cases, says other lessons he’s learned include conducting yourself with honesty and integrity at all times, the importance of becoming a good listener and being prepared to work harder than you ever have in your life.

”That's because someone else's life depends on you, even if your work is not materially appreciated and even if you don't have any gratitude at the end of the day,” Rosen told the crowd of family, friends and colleagues.

“... But I tell you, I gave my life's blood to this, and I loved every minute of it.”

The Martin Medal was struck in 1988 to honour Goldwyn Arthur Martin, an influential Canadian criminal lawyer and eminent jurist. It is awarded in recognition of lifelong achievement and sustained commitment to the principles and advancement of criminal justice.

It was awarded in 2017 to Beverly McLachlin, retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Michael Lacy, CLA president, told the gala that despite an impressive list of nominees, the award committee came to a very quick decision that Rosen should be the recipient of the Martin Medal on the 30th anniversary of its inception.

Lacy lauded Rosen’s long-standing commitment to mentoring young lawyers and his “legendary” work as a criminal defence lawyer, citing the trial of his client, serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo.

“I can tell you that it was a case where, if it had been handled the wrong way or if it had been the wrong lawyer handling the case, it would have brought the entire profession into disrepute. And John made us all proud in terms of the way he handled that case,” Lacy said. “But that was just an example of the way he approached all of his cases, and he approached his career in criminal law.”

Rosen was a member of the committee that initiated the Martin Medal. In fact, he presented the medal to its namesake at a CLA convention.

“Arthur Martin was the best criminal lawyer that Canada has ever produced. He practised for 35 years before going to the Court of Appeal for another 15, and his achievements are legendary,” Rosen told the gala. “It has been said, however, that Arthur Martin's lifelong and largely successful project was to make criminal defence work an honourable and recognized part of the legal profession.

“... And because of his efforts, we, the defence lawyers in Canada, practise in an environment in which we are seen as an integral and important part of the criminal justice system, something that was virtually non-existent when Arthur Martin started his career in 1938.”

Rosen said receiving the Martin Medal, in a way closed a circle in his career. That sentiment was reflected in the two colleagues who introduced their “mentor” and “friend” — Ontario Superior Court Justice Katherine Corrick and Lindsay Daviau, a criminal defence lawyer with Rosen & Company.

“John told me he was asking me and Lindsay Daviau to introduce him this afternoon because we're like bookends. I was his first criminal intensive student in the fall of 1978 (at Osgoode Hall), and Lindsay is his current associate,” Corrick told gala attendees. “We are bookends to an extraordinary career, one that spans 48 years, during which John has demonstrated why he so richly deserves the honour that you are bestowing on him.”

Corrick called Rosen a “ferocious” advocate, always respectful and professional and as “gracious” in defeat as in victory.

“As a student, I was awestruck by his skills as a lawyer and his sense of humanity,” Corrick said. “I watched how driven he was by his deep and abiding belief that every person, no matter how reviled, had inherent value as a human being, and how fearless he was in the defence of his clients, fueled by his passion for the pursuit of justice.”

Daviau said she also marvelled at Rosen’s courtroom acumen and was equally as effusive about his generosity as a mentor. She cited the pro bono workshops for young lawyers Rosen started more than six years ago with the help of fellow criminal defence lawyer Venus Sayed. That led to the development of a mentoring program for those who complete the workshops.

In addition, she told the gala, Rosen accepts countless invitations to address conferences and groups across the country.

I can personally attest to the number of phone calls and email messages he receives from junior and senior counsel alike for advice and guidance. I have never seen John turn away any lawyer any time with any question or concern, big or small,” Daviau said.

“It's for all these reasons that I truly believe that there is no one more deserving of this award than John Rosen.”

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