Wednesday 2 July 2014

Note to Del Mastro defence: attacking this witness was bad math

The Dean Del Mastro trial resumed on Wednesday, July 2, with the defence team firing salvos at Frank Hall, the prosecution’s star witness.
Del Mastro outside court in Peterborough
Wearing a dark suit and white shirt, Hall parried questions from Del Mastro’s lawyer, Jeff Ayotte, as well as Dave McFadden, counsel for Richard McCarthy, Del Mastro’s official agent for his 2008 campaign. Both McCarthy and Del Mastro are charged with overspending on the campaign, and then covering it up.

Hall, along with his brother Colin and wife Jennifer, ran the Ottawa-based polling firm Holinshed, which Del Mastro used during his 2008 election campaign.

Ayotte and McFadden had Hall in the weeds most of the day. They went after him on how and when he knew that Del Mastro had overspent, the nature of his communication with Elections Canada with regard to phone records, and how the now-defunct Holinshed’s billing was structured.

But the real point of the day’s proceedings was to build an argument that Mr. Hall, feeling jilted by Del Mastro, was on a vendetta campaign.

At times, the questioning was aggressive. Referring to an email, Ayotte said to Hall –

“You can’t rely on everything you write, so why rely on this?”

This prompted Justice Lisa Cameron to interject with a “Mr. Ayotte!”

This was not the only time she had to call off what became an increasingly hostile cross-examination.

Hall was repeatedly challenged to remember phone conversations from years ago. Justice Cameron was forced at one point to stop the proceedings, referencing “the highly complicated brain function that we so flippantly call memory,” saying that “we are pretty glib about that in trial matters.”

Justice Cameron went on to refer to recent scientific research into the unreliability of memory. Later, she commented to the defence that she “was having a little difficulty following the thread of this” and that the defence should be more careful in its use of hypothetical scenarios.

In the afternoon, the defence ramped up its efforts to destroy Hall’s credibility. There were two prongs to this attack.

First, the defence suggested that Hall was bitter that he had lost a $20,000 small claims suit against Del Mastro for Holinshed’s custom GeoVote software for voter mapping – Hall says it was completed, the defence disagrees.

Second, the defence argued that once Holinshed’s relationship with Del Mastro went south, it affected Hall’s other customers, most of whom were Conservative politicians. This might explain why Hall blew the whistle during the following election campaign in April 2011, when it would do maximum damage to Del Mastro.

“The reason for your drop in business,” said Ayotte,“was that when your relationship with Del Mastro soured, he told others.”

“No Conservative MP said that to me,” said Hall, who argued that there could have been other factors, such as a problem with the MP from Nepean-Carleton, who was given corrupted data by Holinshed, and the fact that Hall was in a car accident requiring two surgeries which had him “in and out of hospital” for over a year.

Hall claimed that the lapse between when he became aware of the alleged underreporting, on November 5 2009, to when he blew the whistle to Elections Canada on April 5, 2011, was due to these issues as well as the need for a “cooling off period”.

In McFadden’s cross-examination, he zeroed in on Hall’s correspondence to the Del Mastro campaign, using an email from Hall to support his claim that Hall’s business reputation was his “sole concern”, implying that Hall did not have such high ideals, or motives, in acting as an Elections Canada whistleblower on Del Mastro.

“You wanted to create as much difficulty for Del Mastro as possible, yes?” asked McFadden.

“No,” said Hall.

McFadden ended with a flourish, saying that Hall had attempted to engage Robert Fife at CTV news. Hall denied this, saying that he had not called the media.

After six days on the stand, Frank Hall looked exhausted and frazzled. However, in La politica’s opinion, he emerged as a credible witness. The defence’s strategy of attacking Mr. Hall, arguing in effect that Del Mastro’s innocence becomes more clear as we explore the nefarious motives of an ex-pollster, simply doesn’t stand up to the evidence.

And evidence is what Justice Cameron will rule on. Of course it is possible that Hall was motivated by his dislike of Del Mastro. But that doesn’t answer the question at the heart of the trial, which is mathematical.

How could the Del Mastro team claim only $1,575 to Elections Canada in Holinshed campaign spending, keeping Del Mastro within his $2,100 personal limit, when the record shows Del Mastro paid Hall $21,000 out of his personal account?

And if that amount was spent outside of the writ period, what was it for, since in small claims court Del Mastro made it clear he had not bought the GeoVote software?

To the best of La politica’s knowledge, a Canadian politician has never gone to jail over an election spending violation. Justice Cameron is not likely to break that tradition if Del Mastro is found guilty. She will likely settle for a fine, unless she finds the arrogance and stupidity so onerous that these shenanigans deserve a few months in the clink.

It is possible that the defence might come up with something better as the trial proceeds. One assumes they must. So far, all we’ve had is an attempt to destroy Hall’s character – and not to establish Del Mastro’s innocence. From this seat, those are two very different matters indeed.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

A reverse timeline of the Dean Del Mastro trial:

June 10: Perjury a near certainty at Del Mastro trial
June 23: Defence and crown battle over evidence admissibility on first day of Del Mastro trial

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