Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford during a news conference to mark the opening of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto April 16, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (CANADA - Tags: REAL ESTATE BUSINESS)

Toronto - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will stay in power pending an appeal of a conflict of interest ruling that was set to kick him out of office, a Toronto court ruled on Wednesday.

Madam Justice Gladys Pardu of the Ontario Divisional Court suspended a previous court ruling that ousted Ford. The appeal is set to be heard on January 7, 2013.

“Having reviewed the notice of appeal, I can conclude that the appeal is neither frivolous nor vexatious,” Justice Pardu said in her ruling. “It is apparent that there are serious issues to be determined on the appeal.”

Ford, a larger-than-life character who took power on a promise to “stop the gravy train” at City Hall, has argued that he did nothing wrong when he voted to overturn an order that he repay money that lobbyists had given to a charity he runs.

Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland disagreed, ruling last week that Ford acted with “willful blindness” in the case, and should leave office by December 10.

If Ford wins his appeal, he will stay in the job until his term ends at the end of 2014. If he loses, the city council will either appoint a caretaker mayor or call a special election, where Ford is likely to run again.

Ford won election by a landslide in 2010, but slashing costs without cutting services proved harder than he expected, and his popularity has fallen steeply.

He grabbed unwelcome headlines for reading while driving on a city expressway, for calling the police when a comedian tried to film part of a popular TV show outside his home, and for reports that city resources were used to help administer the high-school football team he coaches.

The conflict-of-interest drama began in 2010 when Ford, then a city councillor, used government letterhead to solicit donations for the football charity created in his name for underprivileged children.

Toronto's integrity commissioner ordered Ford to repay the C$3 150 ($3 173) the charity received from lobbyists and companies that do business with the city.

Ford refused to repay the money, and in February 2012 he took part in a city council debate on the matter and then voted to remove the sanctions against him - despite being warned by the council speaker that voting was a no-no.

He pleaded not guilty in September, stating that he believed there was no conflict of interest as there was no financial benefit for the city. The judge dismissed that.

In a rare apology after last week's court ruling, he said the matter began “because I love to help kids play football.”

Ford faces separate charges in a C$6 million libel case about remarks he made about corruption at City Hall, and is being audited for his campaign finances. The penalty in the audit case could also include removal from office. - Reuters