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As lawyers were duking it out in a courtroom on University Ave. Thursday afternoon, Rob Ford was on a football field in Scarborough watching his high school football team fight for a place in the Metro Bowl.
Ford of course is three days in to a $6-million libel suit that's been brought against him by George Foulidis, the owner of the Boardwalk Café. But faced with the choice of spending an afternoon at trial or helping the Don Bosco Eagles clinch a semi-final berth in the GTA championships, well, the mayor made an executive decision.
The proceedings continued in his absence, with former council candidate Bruce Baker giving evidence in a seperate but related libel case brought by Foulidis.
Ford has been heavily criticized for skipping out of City Hall meetings to coach football, and his absence from court has also left some observers scratching their heads. This wasn't the first time he bailed on the trial either - he also left early on Wednesday afternoon, and was spotted at the Eagles' practice a few hours later.
But according to Ford's lawyer, Gavin Tighe, it's perfectly normal for the subject of a civil suit to miss parts of a trial.
"He's not testifying [today]. Quite frankly, the party has a right to be there, but they don't have an obligation to be there," Tighe said Thursday. "That happens all the time."
Susan Drummond, associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and an expert in civil litigation, agrees.
"I don't think he has an obligation to be present," she wrote in an email. "Not atypically, people don't attend trials in which they are parties - their lawyers represent them."
Foulidis's lawyer, Brian Shiller, certainly had no objections to Ford's absence. In consultation with the judge Wednesday, he and Tighe agreed to a schedule that will see Ford take the stand Friday morning.
That means he will likely have to miss a ceremony marking the arrival of the Grey Cup in Toronto, scheduled for Friday at 11:30 am. Although Ford, a rabid CFL fan, has been talking about the Grey Cup Festival for months, he will have no choice but to skip the event, according to Tighe.
"He'll be here," Tighe said outside the courtroom on Thursday.
Shiller had raised the possibility of calling him to the stand Thursday morning, but his testimony is expected to last into the afternoon and all parties agreed it would be best not to have to interrupt it if Ford had to leave later in the day.
Closing statements for the trial, which was supposed to end Friday, will now be given on Monday instead.
We'll have to wait a little longer to learn whether Ford will beat the libel rap, but he did score at least one victory Thursday: the Eagles steamrolled the Northern Red Knights 31-0.
They'll play in the Metro Bowl semi-finals next Thursday, and if they win, they'll be in the championship game on November 27, the same day a city council meeting is scheduled.