Rob Ford can keep his job as mayor of Toronto.
In a stunning decision released Friday morning at 10:30 am, a three-judge panel of the Ontario Divisional Court overturned the November ruling that kicked Ford out of office for violating conflict of interest law.
The mayor appealed the ruling in court on January 7, and many observers predicted he would have a hard time beating the case.
But in their unanimous ruling, the judges determined that Justice Charles Hackland made serious errors in law last fall when he found Ford guilty of breaking the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
"We conclude that the application judge erred in finding that Mr. Ford contravened the MCIA," the judges wrote. "Accordingly, we would allow the appeal."
The case centered around Ford's conduct during a February 2012 council meeting, at which he voted on a motion absolving him of repaying $3,150 in funds he improperly solicited to his football foundation.
Hackland ruled that Ford voting on an item in which he had financial interest was a clear conflict of interest. But the mayor's lawyer, Alan Lenczner, argued at appeal that council acted ultra vires, or outside the authority granted it under the City of Toronto Act, when it initially ordered him to repay the funds in August of 2010, and as such Ford could not be punished for his vote.
The appeal judges agreed.
"Given that the imposition of the financial sanction under [the original council motion] was a nullity because Council did not have the jurisdiction to impose such a penalty, Mr. Ford had no pecuniary interest in the matter on which he voted at Council on February 7, 2012," they wrote.
"[Ford] has not contravened s. 5(1) of the MCIA. Therefore, the appeal is allowed, the judgment of the application judge is set aside and the application under the MCIA is dismissed."
The case was brought against Ford last March by Paul Magder, who was represented by well-known Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby.
The initial ruling threw City Hall into confusion, with councillors contemplating having to call a by-election or appoint someone to replace Ford if he were ousted.
Friday's court victory is the mayor's second in less than a month. On December 27 a judge threw out a $6-million libel lawsuit launched against him by the operator of a Beaches restaurant.
But Ford is not out of the woods yet, and could still face at least one more legal challenge to his mayoralty. An auditing firm is expected to release the results of a probe into his 2010 campaign finances before the end of the month. Former library board vice-chair Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler alleges that Ford exceeded campaign spending limits during his mayoral run and took out an illegal interest-free loan from his family's company.
If the city compliance audit committee decides to pursue charges against Ford as a result of the probe, he could be removed from office.
Chaleff-Freudenthaler was also involved in the bringing the conflict of interest case against the mayor.