Lawyer accused of obstructing justice ‘acted in good faith,’ attorney says
What kind of a lawyer agrees to meet with a complete stranger and hand her an envelope, with no knowledge of its contents, and never questions whether he might be breaking the law?
That is the question prosecutor Jennifer Morin put to Quebec Court Judge Marc-André Dagenais on Wednesday while wrapping up her closing arguments in the trial of Montreal lawyer Dimitrios Strapatsas. The 43-year-old attorney is charged with obstructing justice for allegedly helping convicted murderer John Boulachanis arrange to have a videotaped statement a witness gave to police in 2014 (before Boulachanis’s murder trial was held) uploaded to YouTube. The Crown alleges the goal was to intimidate the witness (a robber who was detained with Boulachanis at the Rivièredes-Prairies Detention Centre in 2014) so he wouldn’t testify in the murder trial held last year.
The witness, whose name cannot be published due to a publication ban, did testify and a jury found Boulachanis guilty of first-degree murder in December.
When the trial began on Tuesday, Boulachanis and Strapatsas were co-accused. Hours later, Boulachanis’s lawyer, Marc Labelle, asked that their cases be severed because Strapatsas’s lawyer, Fabio Dell’Aquila, announced he would ask both men to testify for the defence. Labelle obviously did not agree with the strategy of having his client placed on the witness stand.
Boulachanis testified even though his case was severed. He claimed he handed over the wrong CD to a fellow detainee before the video was posted on YouTube by the detainee’s girlfriend. Boulachanis said he wanted to have a different video, showing how filthy the detention centre was, posted on YouTube instead. He also said Strapatsas did not know why Boulachanis later instructed him to hand an envelope to the detainee’s girlfriend after the video was made available on the internet.
Strapatsas testified that he did hand the woman an envelope, on April 15, 2015, at a Tim Hortons near the detention centre. He said he assumed there was money inside but did not ask Boulachanis the amount (it was $200). He also said he assumed he was paying a bill as he had done on a regular basis for Boulachanis in the past.
On Wednesday, Morin said Strapatsas’s version of events makes no sense. She noted that Strapatsas has been a defence lawyer for a decade now.
“What kind of a lawyer would meet with a person they do not know at a Tim Hortons at night and hand them an envelope without knowing what is inside,” Morin asked while disputing Strapatsas’s claim of ignorance.
Dell’Aquila said there is no evidence to show Strapatsas knew a video had been posted to YouTube. He argued that, as far as Strapatsas is concerned, the case can be interpreted in two different ways: If the judge believes Boulachanis’s claim that he handed over the wrong CD, then there was no intent to obstruct justice. If Dagenais does not believe Boulachanis, then Strapatsas was merely “acting in good faith” and did not know he was paying a woman for having uploaded the video, Dell’Aquila argued.
“If Mr. Boulachanis lied to (the other detainee about the contents of the video), it is highly possible he lied to Mr. Strapatsas,” Dell’Aquila said. “I would submit to you that Mr. Strapatsas made a bad choice, but not to obstruct justice. He acted in good faith.”
Dagenais is scheduled to deliver his decision on a verdict in October. Boulachanis’s case returns to court in November.
Dimitrios Strapatsas, left, and lawyer Fabio Dell’Aquila claim Strapatsas did not know what was in the envelope at the heart of the obstruction of justice charge he faces.