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CTV - O'Brien acquitted, set to return to mayor's chair

(2009-08-05)

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien will return to work Thursday, one day after being acquitted of two influence peddling charges relating to the 2006 mayoral election.

Michael Edelson 

Michael Edelson addresses the press 

"As you can all appreciate, this has been an emotional rollercoaster. This has been a very difficult two years for my wife, my two children, my family, my ex-wife and her family and all of my friends and supporters and people in the City of Ottawa," O'Brien said following his acquittal.

"I regret that we had to go through that, but quite frankly, it was important for me to take this battle and have the truth come out, so that I can look at my two boys in the eyes, and say their family name is still what it was before."

O'Brien's family wiped tears from their faces and embraced as Justice Douglas Cunningham delivered his verdict to a courtroom packed with about 200 people on Wednesday. An overflow room with video screens for the public was also set up to accommodate anyone who couldn't find a seat.

Cunningham concluded there was no evidence that O'Brien had the influence to offer fellow mayoral candidate Terry Kilrea a job with the National Parole Board in return for dropping out of the mayor's race.
 

Although Cunningham told the court he suspects O'Brien may have pretended to have influence, he said he could not reach that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.

O'Brien was on trial for two charges of influence peddling, stemming from allegations he offered to help Kilrea with a federal appointment to the National Parole Board in exchange for dropping out of the 2006 mayoral race.

"I have no doubt Mr. O'Brien arranged the meeting of July 12th (with Kilrea) and that his purpose was to convince Mr. Kilrea not to run," Cunningham said.

Still, he said it's not an offence to encourage someone to drop out of a political race. If it was, he said there'd be a need for many more jails.

Kilrea offers no comment

Kilrea, who brought forward the allegations against the mayor, was not at the courthouse to hear the ruling.

CTV Ottawa reached him by phone and he offered no comment on the acquittal.

Kilrea said he wants to read Cunningham's judgment first; then he will decide whether he will talk to the media.

O'Brien hopes to move forward

O'Brien, who has always maintained his innocence, said now that he's been cleared, he hopes to put the whole experience behind him.

"I am satisfied that Judge Cunningham's ruling provided all of us with a clear insight as to what actually happened," he said.

"I am hoping that we can now put this sad ordeal behind us and move forward."

The mayor's legal team also expressed admiration for O'Brien's courage in facing the charges head-on.

"I don't think anyone here can imagine the resolute courage that it takes to put your reputation and your life on the line in a criminal trial of this notoriety and stand-up for what you believe was correct," said defence lawyer Michael Edelson.

Colleagues offer their support

Several councillors joined the mayor's family and friends at the courthouse to offer their support.

"I'm very pleased for Larry and for Colleen. This is a huge weight lifted from their shoulders. I can't imagine what they and their families have been going through for the last months, so I'm really pleased for them," said Coun. Rob Jellett.

"It's been a tremendous strain on Larry and his family -- so for that, I'm very grateful the verdict is not guilty," added Acting Mayor Doug Thompson, who will be demoted to deputy mayor on Thursday.

Return to City Hall

Now, councillors are looking forward to the mayor's swift return to work.

"He was duly elected -- a massive majority. He is the mayor and we need him back to lead us through what are going to be some trying times -- Lansdowne Live and another budget," said Thompson.

"All I'm hoping for is that councillors that worked together as a union during the months of summer will work with the present mayor when he comes back. Let's roll up our sleeves and get some work done and show the City of Ottawa and its residents, we're prepared to get the agenda moving again," said Coun. Bob Monette.

Although Thompson said he suspects O'Brien will be subdued for the first few days, he predicts it won't take long before he returns to his normal self.

"Knowing Larry, it won't take too long before he's full steam," Thompson told CTV Ottawa.

The trial

Although O'Brien never took the stand, he told police in a video taped interview in April 2007 that he never offered his rival a job or appointment in exchange for dropping out of the mayor's race.

"I would go on, you know, the record very clearly. I never offered him (Kilrea) a job, period. I never promised him a job, period," O'Brien told police in the interview, which was submitted as evidence at the trial.

O'Brien admitted he had a meeting with Kilrea in July 2006. He said he hoped to convince Kilrea to drop out of the mayor's race because he felt they were both targeting the same voters, and feared they would split the right-of-centre vote.

Although the two agree they discussed the race, they do not agree on the details of those discussions.

Kilrea testified that O'Brien told him John Baird, who was then-president of the Treasury Board, was the one who could help him with a federal appointment.

Kilrea alleged O'Brien later told him he had spoken to a high-ranking member of the Conservative Party, and Kilrea's name was "in the queue" for an appointment to the National Parole Board.

Although O'Brien said he contacted longtime Conservative and personal friend John Reynolds to seek advice following the meeting, he told police he was advised to stay clear of the matter.

Cunningham said encouraging Kilrea to see Baird, does not make O'Brien a criminal.

"In my view, by encouraging Mr. Kilrea to meet with Mr. Baird provides more support for Mr. O'Brien's contention that, following Mr. Reynolds' advice, Mr. Kilrea would have to pursue his dream on his own," Cunningham said.

Kilrea eventually dropped out of the mayor's race, citing money problems. He never got a federal appointment.

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