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Montreal Lawyer Léo-René Maranda, R.I.P. - An Extraordinary Legacy

Léo-René Maranda was a legend in the Québec criminal bar but mostly unknown outside of Canada's French-speaking province. He died on January 28, 2012 at the age of 79 years old, in Florida, after a legal career that spanned 54 years, and into only his first year of retirement.

Maranda was a well-known lawyer for organized crime and as a biker lawyer. His clients included an ongoing retainer for the Hells Angels and other notable organized crime clients - even Mafia clients such as Vincent Cotroni and Mom Boucher, and the female bank robber, Monica Proietti, known as "Machine Gun Monica", until she went out in a flurry of bullets during a police stand-off.

Maranda had two simple rule with his cases. The first: he did not want to know whether the client was innocent or guilty. This, so that he could focus on the sole issue of the evidence. He would often pass on this controversial advice to law students.

His other golden rule was never to put his client on the stand.

Léo-René MarandaMaranda was known for his relentless cross examinations. If need be, he would keep a witness under cross-examination for five or six days. According to a Globe and Mail obituary, he one started a cross-examination of a police informant, a witness who had already admitted to killing 27 people, with this question:

"Monsieur Lavoie, tell us, between yesterday and this morning, did you kill anyone interesting?"

In 1985, Me Maranda was charged with possession of marijuana for the purposes of trafficking when a raid on his home found marijuana, hashish and cocaine. The charges were later dropped when, represented by his eldest son Jean-René Maranda, the evidence showed that unknown persons had hidden the drugs on his property.

According to the Montreal Mirror:

"In February (1997), Andrée Marquis, described as the companion of famed biker lawyer Leo-Réné Maranda, was caught … with more than $750,000 of hydroponic marijuana."

In 1996, Maranda was once again the target of police investigation into the money laundering of one of his clients in a case later described by the Supreme Court of Canada in dismissing the search warrant of his office:

"In September 1996, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was conducting an investigation of Alain Charron, a client of Maranda. The police suspected that Mr. Charron was involved in money laundering and drug trafficking. In the course of the criminal investigation, the respondent, Cpl. Normand Leblanc, a member of the RCMP, filed an application for authorization to search Mr. Maranda’s office. Once the authorization was granted, the search took place. The police gave Mr. Maranda no notice. Filing cabinets and bookshelves were emptied."

In 2001, Maître Maranda showed that his allegiance to his clients could overwhelm his common sense when he told the Canadian television show, The Fifth Estate, that his biker clients, the Hells Angels, did not deserve their bad reputation and that they were being unfairly targeted by law enforcement! Asked to explain this comment, he then callously and foolishly compared the persecution of the Hells Angels to Adolf Hitler's persecution of the Jews in the Second World War!

In 1988, the Montréal Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (Association des avocats de la défense de Montréal) named its annual prize to recognize the contribution of a member, the Prix Léo-René Maranda.

But the most sensational story of Léo-René Maranda were the events of March 1997, described by Lisa Fitterman in her obituary article:

"On a cold winters night in 1997, Lée-René Maranda was working alone in his east end Montréal condo when his throat seized up. As he gasped for air, the longtime criminal lawyer knew he would die unless he did something fast.

"First, he tried to insert a pen into his windpipe but it wasn't sharp enough to pierce the skin, bone and cartilage. Not missing a beat, he tried again, this time with a small knife from the kitchen.

"Only then did he call 911."

A tracheotomy is an opening which is supposed to be done surgically, through the neck into the windpipe, to allow direct access to the breathing tube and is commonly done in an operating room under general anesthesia.

Sensing his windpipe was blocked and alone, knowing he might die, Maranda acted instantly in ferreting for something to cut his own neck, and a small tube, even while he was suffocating, and then summoning the courage necessary to perform a rudimentary emergency tracheotomy on himself (called a cricothyrotomy). He cut his own neck under the Adam's apple and inserted a small tube through the incision. His actions gave him enough oxygen to preserve his life until paramedics could arise.

Legacy

While many would disagree with Maranda and unfairly associate him with the crimes of his clients, these lawyers are a necessary component of a successful and fair criminal justice system.

But this one, Léo-René Maranda showed by the tracheotomy that he had more than just lawyer-courage - he also had what the French call couilles.

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