| Monday, March 11, 2002 | Canadian Press

Lawyer storms out of secretive Toronto hearing

Toronto: The lawyer for an alleged Egyptian terrorist sympathizer walked out on a controversial Federal Court hearing Monday after telling the presiding judge it was a "sham" and a travesty of justice.

A packed courtroom sat in silent shock as Rocco Galati declared he was no longer willing to defend Mahmoud Jaballah in a secrecy-shrouded hearing he considers a breach of the principles of law.

"For me to remain would be a sham and a detriment to my client and a complete breach of my oath," Mr. Galati told a stunned Federal Court Judge Andrew MacKay.

"This is my only course of action.... I can't proceed any further."

Shortly after Mr. Galati marched out of the courtroom, Mr. Jaballah himself took the stand and, on the advice of his lawyer, declared that he too would no longer participate in the hearing.

"I can see nothing new in the evidence that has been given to me and my lawyer," said Mr. Jaballah, a teacher and principal at a Toronto Islamic school who's been in jail for seven months.

"My position here is I am a weak person and I don't know the rules. I follow the advice of my lawyer."

Mr. Jaballah, 39, was first arrested in Toronto in 1999 on allegations by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that he belonged to Al Jihad, a terrorist group with links to Osama bin Laden's infamous al-Qaeda terror network.

Mr. Jaballah was freed nearly a year later by Federal Court Justice Bud Cullen, who sided with the many character witnesses who testified on his behalf. Many of them were in court Monday.

But Mr. Jaballah was arrested again last August, ostensibly on the strength of new CSIS evidence the federal Department of Justice says supports their claim that Jaballah is a known Al-Qaeda associate.

But that new evidence remains a mystery to Mr. Galati, and a lawyer can only do so much without seeing the evidence against his client, he said outside court.

To proceed in an unfair and undemocratic hearing merely for the sake of appearances would be to condone a blatant breach of fundamental justice and basic human rights, he added.

"We should stop the pretense that this is a fair and independent judicial review.... I cannot gauge, for the life of me, anything new in this case from the first one in 1999," Mr. Galati said.

"Lawyers, ever since 1215 and the Magna Carta to the present constitutional framework, are officers of the court, not court jesters for CSIS."

Mr. Galati said he remains Mr. Jaballah's lawyer and will represent his client and his family in an upcoming Ontario Court civil action that has been filed against the federal government.

But until the full case against Mr. Jaballah is disclosed, Mr. Galati's convinced he's done all he can.

"I'm not abandoning my client; I'm abandoning this particular process," he said. "I'm useless in this process. I have no role in this process."

Judge MacKay, who admitted to being "surprised" by Mr. Galati's decision, promised a ruling within the next two weeks.

But he also pledged to review the evidence with "an abundance of caution" and would only rule against Mr. Jaballah if he found proof of new, significant evidence.

Much of the case against Mr. Jaballah revolves around phone calls he made in 1998 and 1999 to a London organization that turned out to be a front for an Al Jihad cell.

During his first hearing, Mr. Jaballah said he was merely calling overseas lawyers in search of help with his refugee claim. The new evidence suggests that's not the case, said a CSIS agent who testified in December.