Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Washing political dirty laundry in public at taxpayer expense!

Helena Guergis versus Arthur Hamilton Cassels Brock & Balckwell LLP, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Guy Giorno, Shelly Glover, The Honourable Lisa Raitt, Axelle Pellerin, Conservative Party of Canada, Derrick Snowdy ..... Ontario Superior Court of Justice File Number 11-53201

Good Day Readers:

Imagine if this makes it to trial - better than a television soap opera! Hopefully, the media will file an Access To Information Act request so taxpayers will find out how much this sideshow is costing.

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk
Taxpayers on hook for Harper's high-powered legal defence in Guergis case

By Mark Kennedy
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Former MP Helena Guergis says the Conservative Party of Canada acted unfairly on "baseless accusations" when it decided to strip her of the right to run in her Ontario riding in the last election as a Conservative. (Photograph: File, Reuters)

OTTAWA — The Conservative government has hired a private-sector lawyer, at taxpayers' expense, to represent Prime Minister Stephen Harper and three other people who are among those being sued for defamation by former Tory cabinet minister Helena Guergis, Postmedia News has learned.

The government could have appointed a staff lawyer from the Department of Justice to handle the case, but chose instead to reach into the private sector to select one of the country's leading litigators — Robert Staley.

The Toronto-based lawyer is a partner at the law firm of Bennett Jones. Staley is promoted by his firm on its website, which cites publications that praise him for his "skilled handling of complex cases," a "first-rate" ability to cross-examine witnesses, and as a "litigation star" who "works hard for his clients and gets results."

He is now one of a group of private-sector lawyers involved in representing a range of clients — from Harper to the Conservative Party of Canada — on a case that is slowly weaving its way through the courts and has the potential to be a political bombshell for the prime minister.

Andrew MacDougall, Harper's spokesman, said Tuesday that the prime minister's "counsel is being paid the standard rate that would be paid to a DoJ (Department of Justice) lawyer." He did not specify the amount of that rate.

MacDougall said the allegations in the lawsuit by Guergis relate to people "who were carrying out official governmental functions," so they are covered by a Treasury Board guideline which spells out how politicians and others in government are represented by a Department of Justice lawyer or an outside practitioner.

MacDougall said "it was deemed inappropriate" for government lawyers to represent Harper since the litigation is between elected officials (Guergis, who was a former Tory MP) and "exempt staff" who were members of the same government.

As well, he said part of the claim involves issues related to "membership in cabinet" — Harper turfed Guergis from cabinet — and that this "is outside of the areas DoJ counsel would typically be involved in."

NDP MP Charlie Angus said he's not convinced.

"It raises a flag with me," he said Tuesday, noting there are already justice department lawyers on staff with the required expertise.

"It's troubling, because if we have competent, very qualified lawyers able to do it who are already on staff, why are we going to the private sector for outside lawyers? And can we be assured that they are not bringing in high-priced lawyers that are going to ding the taxpayer more?"

In December, lawyers for Guergis filed a lawsuit in an Ottawa court against Harper, the Conservative party, and several other people for $1.3 million over her 2010 ejection from the Tory caucus over allegations of improper conduct.

The allegations in the statement of claim — none of which have been proven in a court — came after a lengthy period during which Guergis publicly complained she had been mistreated by her former boss and political colleagues.

Now, as the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, she is seeking compensation for damage she alleges those actions inflicted on her public reputation.

Specifically, with regards to Harper's actions, her 31-page statement of claim seeks damages from the prime minister for his alleged "conspiracy, defamation, misfeasance in public office, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and negligence."

In December, a spokesman for the prime minister said the allegations "are groundless and they will be refuted vigorously."

On February 9, Harper's lawyer served a notice of intent to defend the prime minister and three other people named in the lawsuit: Raymond Novak, the prime minister's principal secretary: Labor Minister Lisa Raitt; and Conservative MP Shelly Glover.

Among the other defendants are Guy Giorno, who served as Harper's Chief of Staff from July 2008 to January 2011, and is no longer in government. He has retained his own lawyer. Documents filed in court this Spring on Giorno's behalf say that he first learned of the lawsuit against him through the media.

"After issuing the claim, this action was brought to the attention of the national media, following which it garnered considerable public attention," says the document filed for Giorno.

"The case involves numerous high profile parties, and raises issues of importance to the public," it says, adding that the allegations "are such that this will likely be a lengthy proceeding."

The Conservative party of Canada has hired an Ottawa-based lawyer to defend it in the lawsuit.

And Arthur Hamilton, a Toronto lawyer who served as counsel for the Conservative Party over the years, has hired legal counsel to represent him.

In the lawsuit, Guergis alleges those being sued conspired to present various allegations about her behaviour — including fraudulent activity, extortion, association with prostitutes, and cocaine use (including "snorting" the drug off a prostitute's breast).

All the allegations are false and defamatory and have "resulted in damage to the plaintiff's reputation," as well as her "political career, health, and well-being," says her statement of claim.

Guergis was in Harper's Cabinet as Minister of State for the Status of Women. That ended suddenly in April 2010 when Harper announced that his office had become aware of "serious allegations'' regarding her conduct which he was forwarding to the RCMP and to the Ethics Commissioner.

Harper did not publicly identify the nature of the allegations, and Guergis says she was not told by the prime minister.

Guergis was booted from cabinet and the Tory caucus, and the party later removed her as its candidate in the southern Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey.

In the statement of claim, lawyers for Guergis allege the allegations about her behaviour were put forward as a method to remove her from the Tory fold.

Guergis ran as an independent candidate in last year's election against the Tory candidate, Kellie Leitch, but she lost.

mkennedy@postmedia.com
Twitter.com/Mark_Kennedy_

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