About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Sona Trial ...In Conclusion

The trial of Michael Sona finally came to a close Monday as the lawyers made their summations before Judge Gary Hearn. Both Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson and attorney for Michael Sona Norm Boxall made their final pitch for Sona's guilty and innocence respectively, and while for many people the question of guilt or innocence is one they already know the answer to, Judge Hearn will undoubtedly have a tougher time of it given the strength of both men's arguments. For his part, Boxall stayed the course and threw the robocall ball to Andrew Prescott and Ken Morgan. Michaelson, meanwhile, said that the evidence establishes Sona's guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The most interesting point made by Michaelson in his closing statement was the introduction of the idea that Sona alone was not responsible, saying that Sona was guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt, although others may have been involved in the commission," of the robocalls. Many observers in the court room noted that this was the first time Michaelson brought up the idea of co-conspirators, even though the evidence noted that someone was logged in to the "Pierre Jones" RackNine account at the campaign office while someone else was at Shoppers Drug Mart buying more prepaid credit cards. But despite that, the Crown stayed on point with Sona. According to Michaelson. Sona's guilt stems from the fact that he had "expressed a desire to send out calls," knew details only known to the person who committed the crime, and that his "post-defense conduct showed that he was conscious of his guilt."
In another interesting note during summations, Michaelson said that "Mr. Prescott's evidence should be approached with caution." And although Prescott was the source of the RackNine contact info, it was passed on to Sona at the insistence of Morgan. Prescott himself was out of the office and out of the country when Sona asked Burke campaign worker John White and Ottawa-based Tory operative Matthew McBain about making anonymous phone calls. Judge Hearn noted here that, "Everyone tells him its bad idea, not that its illegal."
Moving on, Michaelson discussed the evidence from the four witnesses who worked with Sona in Ottawa, including Rebecca Docksteader who said she recalled Sona telling her about how he enacted the plan to make the robocalls. The Crown insists that her remembrances are not tainted by media reports and that she was "unshakable" on the stand under cross-examination. Judge Hearn also expressed concern about Sona's alleged tendency to "be grandiose" and that we was "prone to putting himself in the centre of that attention." Michaelson affirmed that none of the witness said that Sona disassociated himself from the plot, and that they all testified that Sona had described to them the various components of it. As to the technical expertise, Michaelson said that the evidence points to the fact that it was someone without IT knowledge that engaged RackNine to make the robocalls, and that Prescott, as an experienced RackNine user, could not be Jones. The Judge questioned the use of a proxy server those first few times that "Jones" logged on to RackNine, but the Crown merely said that that reinforces the idea that more than one person was involved, one that masked their digital footprint with a proxy, and one who didn't: Sona.
Michaelson said that Sona was spurred to action believing that the Burke campaign "been victim of anonymous calls by the Liberals," and the fact that the office "shared a siege mentality." "Sona wanted to get back at the opposition, retaliate, win the election," the Crown said. Later that election night, at the now infamous toast to "Pierre," Sona was proud that the plot worked despite the local election loss. Sona's scheme, said Michaelson, was chaos, "and he succeeded." To summarize his summation, Michaelson seemed to infer to the weakness in his own case. "Even if you have some doubt," he said, "Michael Sona is still guilty. And one of the acts would had the affect of assisting the perpetrator [...] It was his plan, and he took credit."
Boxall began his summation saying that the Crown "has failed to produce cogent evidence," to convince the court of Sona's guilt. In fact, Sona was not required to prove anything, and as a result, a number of questions remain in the case. Boxall also pointed out that the series of events agreed up in the evidence suggests many possible solutions, which he said is a weakness in the Crown's case. Most importantly though, when it comes to the plan as it stands, the most important work didn't happen till one of the suspects got back to the campaign office. "There was no action prior till Mr. Prescott's return," said Boxall, pushing his alternative theory of events that it was Prescott, not Sona, that was the man behind Pierre.
The defence submitted that Sona lacked the IT know-how to technically commit the robocall scheme, and Sona's own lack of ability to speak French spoke as much to the involvement of another person (or people) as the fact that Client #93 was logged into a computer at the campaign office the same time "Pierre Jones" was buying gift cards at the Eramosa Shoppers Drug Mart. "Prescott is just not credible," Boxall said, "[it's] not the type of evidence that one can safely get a conviction with."
Boxall also attacked the veracity of other witnesses, like that quartet of Sona's Ottawa co-workers who all claim that Sona told them about the plot in detail. The difference, he noted later, was between what was reliable and what was credible; a witness can be credible while still being unreliable. According to Boxall, the passage of time plus the influence of media reports contaminated their testimony, and it was not realistic to assume that they never discusses the case amongst themselves. The time aspect also comes into play with testimony from primary witnesses like Chris Crawford, who couldn't recall if Sona, when confronted with his alledged conversation with Morgan about "American-style" campaign tactics, said that such tactics were a good idea or a bad idea. "Crawford's evidence was vague and ultimately unhelpful," Boxall said.
Returing to RackNine, Boxall noted that both Client #45 and #93 did business in the same way, always running test calls before the main campaign and paying for the service from a PayPal account loaded in small payments from a credit card. Boxall also noted that Meier didn't take non-political clients at the time, and that "Pierre Jones" used a ruse about a group project for a marketing class to get access. The attorney said that Meier was aware of the potential for misuses to his system, but did not take any steps to see who was using his service. "It could be a high level of service," said Boxall, but it seemed odd that he would be so unconcerned.
Of some concern to Boxall was the fact that Meier seemed to tip off Prescott that Elections Canada was looking into the robocalls, another telling sign that perhaps Meier knew that when he was talking to "Jones" he was talking to Prescott. Speaking of Prescott, Boxall noted that 40 minutes after the robocalls went out on Election Day, the Burke campaign's deputy manager was sending out his own robocall called "counter fake EC." That's kind of a quick turn-around if you didn't know the misleading robocall was coming. Boxall also questioned Prescott's version of events, that he was logged on to RackNine at 4:15 in the morning to answer a question from Sona. There was no activity on the Client #93 account after 4:12 am, said Boxall, so why didn't Sona follow through on Prescott's supposed advice? Boxall continued to hammer hard on Prescott after the lunch break, accusing him of covering something up when he had all computers used at the Burke campaign office, including his own personal laptop, wiped before Elections Canada came calling for them in 2012.
Taking a break from Prescott, Boxall started on, what the judge called, the elephant in the room, Ken Morgan. Sona's attorney questioned the list of financial expenses Prescott gave Morgan. Morgan, as campaign manager, was responsible for campaign expenses, and Boxall noted that Prescott's invoice was not very well organized, and the oddity of Prescott's honorarium barely covering his expenses during the campaign. On top of that, Morgan paid Prescott with a personal cheque and not a cheque from the campaign. Boxall submitted that the list of expenses was incomplete, and amongst the unanswered questions of the case was where the money for both the burner phone and the prepaid credit cards come from.
As for Prescott, the "self-described cell phone expert," Boxall turned his attention to motive. "He essentially acknowledged that he has a public image he's trying to maintain," explained Boxall. The so-called Christian Conservative said he had "high moral standards," and thus claimed that one wouldn't talk to him about such a scheme as the robocall campaign despite evidence to the contrary, like the Bingo card of Liberal talking points that Prescott and others left on Frank Valeriote's podium prior to a 2011 debate. "He gave an explanation that, on my submission, is even more concerning," Boxall added. That reason was that Valeriote was to Prescott "the one member of Parliament, I had no respect for," and thus it might "prompt him to do things that are not ethical."*
*It was around this point that Judge Hearn said something to the effect of "Sounds like a lot of campaign tactics are juvenile." At which point Prescott appeared on Twitter with a new Bingo card, this one for Kathleen Wynne. He even commented on my tweet about the judge's remark, seemingly without a bit of irony, saying that we should hear all the ideas that he shot down. When someone pointed out that he missed one, Prescott typically shirked any responsibility.
Again, Boxall slammed the reliability of memory, this time in Prescott's case noting that his memory "evolved" over the course of his Elections Canada interviews, up to and including the point where he got immunity and such details as the toast, and the burner phone sitting on Sona's desk suddenly came into play. Prescott had told prosecutors that Sona was in the campaign office at 10 am on Election Day, and the fact that no one else held this recollection meant that Prescott's credibility was "sadly lacking." That wasn't the only questionable account from Prescott for Boxall. Also problematic was that Client #45's story about taping his password to his computer so others can use, and showing others in the Burke campaign how to use RackNine's 2call software to "drum up future business" for Meier.
Indeed, all recollections were called into question. So much media attention was foisted onto the robocall story when it broke in February 2012 how could Sona's friends and co-workers not get all the details necessary to paint a picture of Sona's guilt, even when they knew differently. When confronted with the fact that Sona was in Aruba on the dates they said he was telling them all about his robocall master plan in Ottawa, witnesses changed their story instead of saying that the papers got it wrong, sticking to their version of events. When your memory's contaminated, said Boxall, it's more dangerous because you're even more sure of yourself, and several months later, after a flurry of media reports, the witnesses then became very sure that Sona was guilty.
With that, court adjourned. Judge Hearn will render his verdict on August 14 at 9:30 am, at which point the robocall saga will truly end with the revelation of Michael Sona's fate.

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