Lunch with Eric Gottardi: Becoming a spokesperson
Eric Gottardi smiles quietly as his fork hovers just above the brochette de porc on his plate. Looking polished in a dark, three-piece-suit, the criminal defence lawyer finally takes a bite of the barbequed bacon.
The expert: Eric V. Gottardi, criminal defence lawyer and senior partner at Peck and Company, Vancouver; regularly appears as a legal analyst in the media
Background: Gottardi worked as a judicial law clerk at the Court Appeal of Ontario after obtaining his law degree from Queen’s University
The apprentice: Catherine Rose, articling student at Sutherland Jetté, Vancouver
Background: Rose recently graduated from the Allard School of Law at U.B.C. Areas of interest include advocacy, litigation, criminal law and constitutional law
“I think people assume that I’m Ian Hanomansing’s best friend. That’s pretty cool.”
It’s just before noon on a typical rainy Friday in Vancouver. Gottardi sits in an oversized, red leather booth at the back of Chambar. The upscale eatery is on the edge of the city’s downtown core, just a few blocks from the CBC broadcast centre, a place Gottardi has become quite familiar with. He is a regular face on the news, a so-called “talking head” called upon – often with very little notice – to explain whatever big case is making the headlines.
Gottardi fell into the role by accident through his work at the Canadian Bar Association. He seems to enjoy it, although he says there’s always the danger of being considered a glory hog. Still, he views the job as a responsibility.
“The media has such a strong role in shaping how the public views the justice system,” Gottardi says. “It needs spokespeople to explain certain decisions because you always hear about a really low sentence in a terrible case.
“‘If it bleeds, it leads’, right?” he goes on, quoting an old news adage. “You have to explain why a really terrible case results in someone not going to jail for a long time. People get upset, which is a knee-jerk reaction when they only know the basics of the facts.”
Catherine Rose sits across from Gottardi listening intently while carefully nibbling on a slice of toasted sourdough. She says she isn’t sure where her career will take her just yet; the thought of striking out on her own makes her nervous. So does becoming a spokesperson in the media.
“I would want to be more confident in my public speaking before I went into something like that,” she says. “When you are in the courtroom – there’s a transcript, there’s a recorder, but nobody is broadcasting what you say to the outside world.”
Though Canada’s justice system functions mostly away from television cameras, trials in Canada have become magnets for media attention.
Gottardi points to the trial of Jian Ghomeshi, arguably one of the biggest scandals to hit the Canadian media in recent memory. “The volume was turned way up because of who he was. That was a relatively run-of-the-mill assault case, one of the many going on in courtrooms across our country every day.”
Ghomeshi was acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking. His lawyer, Marie Henein, released a statement after the verdict saying that, notwithstanding the unprecedented scrutiny and pressure, the case was determined on the evidence heard in a court of law.
Gottardi usually always says yes when journalists call him for comment. Except, he says, when it comes to his own cases.
He offers Rose a piece of advice. “If you stick with criminal law, you’ll eventually end up with a high-profile case and microphone in your face,” he says. “‘No comment’ is usually the best comment.”