TORONTO (Reuters) - The ruling to remove an “honest man” such as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from office would be draconian, the mayor’s lawyer said on Monday as arguments concluded in the appeal of a case that has cast a pall of uncertainty over who will run Canada’s most populous city.
The controversial mayor was evicted from his post by an Ontario Superior Court judge two years into his term after being found guilty of conflict of interest charges. He later won the right to stay on the job until the appeal could be heard.
At the conclusion of the appeal proceedings on Monday the three-judge panel said it would release its decision soon. Canadian newspapers said the process could take weeks.
In his opening submission, Ford’s lawyer, Alan Lenczner, told the judges that there were “substantial errors” in the original ruling in November.
That was when Ontario Superior Court Judge Charles Hackland ruled Ford violated a conflict of interest law when he voted at city council to scrap a fine the council had imposed upon him for accepting donations from lobbyists to his football foundation.
Lenczner argued that the city council did not have the authority to hold the vote in the first place.
Lenczner, who called his client an “honest man,” ended his argument by playing a recording of Ford making an impassioned plea in a council meeting that he was just trying to raise funds so more high school kids could play football.
“Does that look like the demeanor of someone trying to hide something?” Lenczner asked the judges in the standing-room-only court.
Clayton Ruby, a high-profile Toronto lawyer pressing the case against Ford, rejected the notion that Ford made an honest mistake when he voted at the council meeting on the fine. He argued the mayor should have known he was in a conflict of interest.
Ford is one of several big city mayors to land in hot water in recent months in Canada. The mayors of Montreal and Laval, Quebec, quit last November amid allegations against their administrations in an inquiry into Quebec corruption. Both deny wrongdoing.
In Ford’s case, the original ruling did not bar him from running in a new election for Toronto mayor, opening the door to more political in-fighting.
The outspoken Ford, who won office after promising to “stop the gravy train” at city hall, has drawn criticism over a series of incidents, including skipping council meetings to coach high-school football.
Ford recently won a C$6 million ($6 million) libel court case over comments he made about corruption at city hall during his 2010 campaign for mayor.
The conflict-of-interest saga began in 2010 when Ford, then a city councillor, used city letterhead to solicit donations for his private football charity for underprivileged children.
Toronto’s integrity commissioner ordered Ford to repay the C$3,150 the charity received from lobbyists and companies that do business with the city, as those donations breached code of conduct rules.
Ford refused to repay the money, and in February 2012 he took part in a city council debate on the matter and then voted in favor of removing the sanctions against him.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges in Ontario Superior Court in September, stating that he believed there was no conflict of interest as there was no financial benefit for the city.
“If it benefits the city and it benefits a member of council, then you have a conflict, and this did not benefit the city at all,” Ford said. “This was a personal issue about my foundation and it had nothing to do with the city.”
Reporting By Russ Blinch; Editing by Claudia Parsons and Leslie Gevirtz