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HomeBusinessJudge sets dates, venue for B.C. Legislature corruption trial

Judge sets dates, venue for B.C. Legislature corruption trial

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Bob Mackin

The former Clerk of the British Columbia Legislature will stand beginning Jan. 24, 2022 at the Law Courts in Vancouver trial on charges that he committed fraud and breach of trust.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes set the trial to run through March 4, 2022 during a telephone hearing on July 22 with the special prosecutors and James’s defence lawyers.

Gavin Cameron and Kevin Westell appeared on behalf of James. They entered a not guilty plea and elected for trial by judge alone. 

James was charged last December in Victoria, where he spent 2011 to 2018 as Clerk. Cameron and Westell were successful in the choice of Vancouver. Special prosecutors Brock Martland and David Butcher took no position on the venue. The two sides had already agreed they needed six weeks in the first quarter of 2022.

Cameron said Vancouver would be the best venue because both legal duos are based in Vancouver and it would be more costly for the case to be tried in Victoria.

“Taxpayers of B.C., generally, have an interest in the matter,” Cameron said. “Obviously a substantial amount of media and public interest in this matter and the centre of the national and provincial press is in Vancouver. Of course, there are some legislative branches in Victoria, but the centre of gravity is Vancouver.”

When it was Butcher’s turn, he sought to correct Cameron on one point.

“Taxpayers of B.C. have generally been a victim of crime,” Butcher said. 

Holmes agreed that Vancouver is best because the Victoria courthouse already has several trials scheduled next January and may not be flexible if the pandemic continues into 2022.

Gary Lenz (left), ex-speaker Linda Reid and Craig James (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association)

Martland said the provisional list of 70 witnesses would be reduced to fewer than 20 by submitting sworn statements admitting certain facts and evidence.

The case management conference happened three days after Holmes decided July 19 to quash the first of the six counts against James.

James’s lawyers applied May 27 to drop the first, so-called “global count” that alleged James committed breach of trust by using his position to advance personal interests from his first day on the job, Sept. 10, 2011, to Nov. 21, 2018, the day after he was suddenly suspended by MLAs and escorted from the Parliament Buildings by a police officer.

Holmes agreed with James’s lawyers, that count 1 was too broad.  

“The allegation may apply to an almost infinite range of acts or omissions over more than seven years, Mr. James’s entire career in the position of Clerk,” she wrote.

Count 2 alleges improperly obtaining and keeping a long service award in the amount of $257,988.38. Count 3 alleges obtaining benefit from the purchase and use of a trailer and wood splitter paid for with public funds. Count 5 alleges submitting claims and receiving reimbursement for personal (not job-related) travel expenses. Each of these types of conduct is alleged to have taken place during a specified period, the longest of these being the period in count 5, which spans almost five years. Count 1, by contrast, makes the general allegation that Mr. James used his position to advance his own personal interests over the public good, and that count does not specify the type of conduct by which he is alleged to have done so.”

Speaker Darryl Plecas (left) and chief of staff Alan Mullen (Mackin)

Holmes was not satisfied that count 1 would mean a smooth or fair trial, “in the sense of presenting the jury with a clear and manageable task.”

That point was proven moot when Cameron began the July 22 case management hearing by instructing Holmes that James was choosing trial by judge alone.

The judge and lawyers will confer again on Oct. 6 for a pre-trial hearing.

James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were immediately suspended and escorted out of the Legislature on Nov. 20, 2018. On that day, British Columbians learned that Speaker Darryl Plecas had called the RCMP after he and his Chief of Staff Alan Mullen found corruption in the offices of the two most-senior permanent officers at the seat of government.

Plecas, who was speaker from 2017 to 2020, released details and evidence of the spending scandal in early 2019.

James and Lenz both retired in disgrace in 2019 after separate reports found they committed wrongdoing. They kept their pension entitlements, but they were not forced to repay taxpayers.

No charges were announced for Lenz last December, but the investigation continues.

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