The fraud and breach of trust trial of the former B.C. Legislature clerk is over.
B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes heard final arguments from lawyers for Craig James and the Crown on March 3. She said she did not know how long it will take to reach a decision and prepare her reasons for judgment, but scheduled a March 30 telephone conference to provide an update.
When the trial began Jan. 24, James, the BC Liberal-appointed clerk from 2011 to 2018, pleaded not guilty to three charges of breach of public trust and two charges of fraud over $5,000. He did not testify.
Special prosecutors David Butcher and Brock Martland advanced a case that James broke the law in three ways: claiming $258,000 in a February 2012 retirement allowance to which he was not entitled; filing travel expense claims throughout his tenure for clothing, luggage and souvenirs to which he was not entitled; and buying a $13,000 woodsplitter and trailer that he stored at his home for a year.
James’s lawyers said the Crown did not prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Defence lawyer Gavin Cameron characterized his client as inept, instead of corrupt.
The woodsplitter became the symbol of the corruption scandal uncovered by then-Speaker Darryl Plecas and his chief of staff Alan Mullen, and revealed via the Legislative Assembly Management Committee in late January 2019.
James’s other lawyer, Kevin Westell, relied on the testimony of Legislature worker Randy Spraggett who said it was his idea to buy the woodsplitter and that the confusion over where to park it on-site was out of James’s control.
“There’s no evidence before the court of any material personal benefit to Mr. James coming out of his possession of the wood splitter or the trailer, or that he himself used or operated the items, or authorized anyone else to do the same,” Westell told Holmes. “There is no direct evidence in that regard. We say though, that in any event, that the wood splitter and trailer may have been briefly operated during the period between November 2017 and November 2018 does not prove he breached any standard.”
Cameron said that after James was marched off the property and forbidden from coming back, his wife returned various items, some of which had been kept at his home office where he sometimes did Legislature work.
“Seventeen books, two suitcases, one backpack, one pair of shoes, nine dress shirts, a suit, one box opener, which wasn’t used… and three whiskey cakes. That’s that’s the extent of it. And the returned items show no evidence of personal use, beyond clothing having been worn to work and taken home to be washed, or luggage being used on business travel and taken from the airport to home,” Cameron said.
The Crown, he said, “simply asked the court to infer criminality based on geography, which the court ought not to do.”
In the Crown’s closing arguments, which began March 1, Martland told the court James was incapable of passing by a souvenir store without buying personal items on the public dime and that he “cleverly maneuvered” a windfall payment for himself after only five months as clerk. He had worked long enough at the legislature to know the weaknesses to exploit, yet he should have known being the CEO of the Parliament Buildings meant his duty was to protect taxpayers.
“We trust leaders to lead, we trust the people on the public payroll will not embezzle or steal or misappropriate money or things,” Martland said.
Instead, Martland said, James continuously breached the public trust.
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