London lawyer defended clients ‘like a beautiful shark’ during four-decade career – The London Free Press
Defence lawyer Craig McLean never met a client he didn’t want to help.
During almost four decades of practice, he ran a wide-ranging criminal practice and defended both the most vulnerable and the most bad-ass.
Often, he would work into the early morning at his office preparing for trials, poring over notes, disclosures and cases. His door was open to anyone looking for help.
What his clients got in return was a quiet, determined advocate armed with an encyclopedic mind and razor-sharp courtroom skills. It’s likely that no other criminal lawyer in London has taken as many cases to trial than McLean.
“He always helped the little guy, always helped the underdog,” said his former legal assistant Sandra Cody.
“Craig didn’t do this for the money. . . . He was there to help.”
McLean, 67, died last week in hospital after a lengthy illness. He leaves behind a long legacy of legal advocacy that set a high standard at the London courthouse.
McLean was never satisfied to settle any case without reviewing it rigorously to ensure his clients were being tried fairly. And often, he would see reasons that the case needed to go in front of a judge or jury for trial.
“He had to have done more trials than any other criminal lawyer I have ever known,” said defence lawyer Brian Chambers, McLean’s close friend.
McLean argued many cases, for Floyd Deleary, the former Outlaw biker with a long record who died in jail before a decision in his dangerous offender hearing. Among his long list of cases, he defended Shalena Turnbull, a Glencoe woman who was convicted of impaired driving and Kenneth Froude, a long-term offender who was convicted of a violent sexual assault of a woman he saw at a bus stop.
He and Chambers worked on many cases together with multiple accused. Both represented people in a North Bay case involving a large marijuana grow-op that spanned six years in the court.
“We eventually won it,” Chambers said, on a constitutional argument — one of McLean’s specialties.
Often he went into trials with the arguments not written to paper but with plans firmly laid out in his memory. When a witness would least expect it, he could conjure up obscure facts from various reports or Crown disclosure. “It’s all up here,” he’d joke, pointing to his head.
“He was like a beautiful shark — quiet but potentially lethal,” said Alberta Crown prosecutor Carolyn Ayre who began her legal career in defence work sharing office space with McLean until 2013.
Retired private investigator David Lord, who also had office space and worked on McLean’s cases, said there were files that some lawyers would have given up on that McLean saw as needing more.
“He always said, ‘let’s go to trial’,” Lord said and “many a time” McLean would either secure an acquittal or a lesser conviction.
He always helped the little guy, always helped the underdog
former legal assistant Sandra Cody
Born in Thunder Bay, McLean came to London to attend Western University law school and never left.
Chambers met him 38 years ago when McLean was articling at Cohen Melnitzer. He was called to the bar in 1981 and joined Lerners, but left in 2004 to strike out on his own with his criminal practice.
He prided himself on being available to those who needed him most. And Chambers said, “no stone was left unturned,” when preparing for any case, no matter the complexity.
While he was intensely private , McLean had no issues in a courtroom where he was known for his meticulous cross-examinations of witnesses. Chambers said he nicknamed him the “Hoover” because McLean covered so much information and went over testimony “to the nth-degree.”
Lord said McLean was at his best when he was in front of a jury. “He was really, really good on his feet. That’s where Craig excelled,” he said.
Ayre said McLean was “ a very generous person” and was probably too generous, too forgiving and too accommodating of his clients.
“I don’t ever recall Craig turning away a client for any reason, even if the client owed money from the past, hadn’t paid their current bill or they had a personality conflict,” she said.
He also couldn’t turn his back on animals in need. Lord once evicted a bat from their Albert Street office with a tennis racquet. McLean found the injured creature on the driveway, put it in a box, then drove it to an animal rehabilitation centre near Mt. Brydges.
Ayre and Cody rescued a mother cat and two kittens from a window well beside the building and McLean helped nurse them to health. The mother cat, called Zena, was their first office pet.
A second cat, called Percy, was rescued from some shrubs after it fell from a balcony across the street. Percy became a constant in the office.
In his quiet way, McLean was an example of what an advocate can be.“That’s their main job is — to advocate for their client no matter who their client is, what their client has done; a lawyer’s job is to do the best job you can for that client within the law and using the law,” Lord said.
“That’s what Craig did to the maximum at all times.”
A celebration of McLean’s life is being planned for later this month.