A Divisional Court has ruled in favour of Rob Ford’s appeal in a conflict-of-interest case, allowing him to remain as mayor.

“This has been a very, very, humbling experience,” a subdued Ford said at city hall.

“I have enormous respect for the judicial system and I am very, very, thankful for the decision it made today.”

Coun. Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, was much more upbeat.

“It’s a great day for democracy,” he said on Friday.

“I’m not this big conspiracy theorist, but is there groups that are upset and targeting Rob? One hundred per cent there is. But Rob prevailed and the taxpayers prevailed today. We know we’re doing the right thing for the people and for the city of Toronto.”

The panel of three judges issued its highly-anticipated decision on Friday morning, less than a month after Ford’s legal team argued the appeal on Jan. 7. The decision puts an end to speculation swirling at city hall as to who  should replace Ford and how his replacement should be chosen.

Click here to read the decision.

The lawyer for Toronto resident Paul Magder who launched the suit against Ford called the ruling “disappointing” and said he hopes to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada.

“We believe that there are serious errors of law in the judgment,” Clayton Ruby said in a statement.

Had the court rejected Ford’s appeal, city council would have had to decide whether to appoint a caretaker mayor or hold a byelection less than a year before the next October 2014 municipal election.

Ford’s lawyers had argued the mayor shouldn’t be found guilty because he made a genuine error in judgement.

The three-judge panel agreed with Ford’s lawyers, who had argued the previous ruling by Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland was legally flawed. Hackland had ruled that Ford broke the rules when he spoke and then participated in a council vote in February 2012 on whether he should have to repay $3,150 he accepted from registered city lobbyists for his private high school football foundation. Ford solicited donations using city resources.

They ruled that council had no authority to order Ford to repay the money. Therefore, as Ford’s lawyers had argued, the mayor had no financial interest in the matter on which he voted.

Council’s decision went beyond possible sanctions laid out in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, because it required Ford to reimburse money that he never received himself, the court said Friday.

“Here, the evidence is clear that Mr. Ford never personally received any of the money donated for the football foundation,” the judges found.

“All funds were received by an arm’s length entity, the Toronto Community Foundation. Therefore, the sanction was not authorized by the Code (of Conduct) nor by the (City of Toronto Act).”

Ford’s lawyer Alan Lenczner also claimed the amount of money Ford received was insignificant to Ford. Hackland’s ruling stated the money in question was “significant” to Ford and that he was guilty of “willful blindness.” The three-panel court agreed on that point Friday.

Councillor reaction

“It is what it is,” Coun. Joe Mihevc, who often votes against Ford, said at city hall on Friday.

“Now we’re back to business as usual.”

Coun. Karen Stintz, who battled Ford over public transit, issued a short statement, saying the “legal process has run its course in this case.

“The Mayor and Council can now focus on the business of the City. Serving the people of Toronto is our collective priority.  This will be my only comment,” Stintz said.

The appeal is one of three court cases Ford has been involved in since becoming mayor. A $6-million defamation suit launched against him by a local restaurateur was dropped on Dec. 27, 2012. Ford also went to court to stop an audit of his campaign finances but his lawyers dropped the effort last spring.

With files from The Canadian Press