PMO has hired three law firms to handle Duffy-Wright investigation by Stephen Maher, Post Media News, November 29, 2013, Ottawa Citizen
The prime minister’s office has hired three law firms to provide legal advice to current and former employees in relation to the RCMP investigation of former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s $90,000 payment to Mike Duffy. The PMO didn’t provide an estimate of the cost of the legal fees, but they are likely to be steep. The lead lawyer on the file, Bay Street litigator Robert Staley, a partner at Bennet Jones, is said to bill in the $900-an-hour range. The other firms are Miller Thompson, and Caroll and Wallace. Fasken Martineau, the firm where Wright’s lawyer, Peter Mantas, works, is not on the list, which suggests Wright may have chosen to pay his own legal bills.
Typically, the federal government uses Justice Department lawyers for its legal requirements, but ministers’ offices can choose to hire outside counsel and have taxpayers pick up the bill. Public servants who end up in legal jeopardy as part of their work are indemnified, which means the government covers their legal counsel. Although proactive disclosure rules require the government to post all contracts over $10,000 online, the Privy Council Office has not posted any contracts related to this. Treasury Board rules allow legal services to be exempted from the disclosure requirements if they “compromise criminal investigations, national security or public safety.”
In court documents filed by the RCMP last week, Cpl. Greg Horton wrote that Staley, “legal representative for the PMO” helped arrange for RCMP computer forensic investigators to search computer servers over the course of four days. Horton wrote that “current and former PMO employees” provided privacy waivers through their own counsel, who also would be hired by the PMO. The amount paid to the firms will be disclosed in next year’s Public Accounts, if they bill more than $100,000 on a file.
The rates lawyers can charge on the file are established by consulting the rate guide set up for the Cohen Commission into salmon stocks, which had a top rate of $350-an-hour, according to Raymond Rivet, a spokesman for the Privy Council Office. “The rates serve as a guide but the specific hourly rate is protected by solicitor-client privilege, so it cannot be disclosed publicly,” he said in an email.
Staley will be taking a steep cut in pay to work on the file if he is restrained by the Cohen Commission rates. A top litigator at one of the biggest firms in the country, Staley has represented BlackBerry and Holinger International, and often works on corporate restructurings and bankruptcies, some of the most demanding and lucrative forms of litigation. Staley has represented Stephen Harper and Ray Novak, now Harper’s chief of staff, in a lawsuit filed by former cabinet minister Helena Guergis, attacking her defamation case against the prime minister in strongly worded and widely reported courtroom performance, denouncing her lawyer’s arguments as “gibberish.” Staley’s son, Steven, works as Harper’s executive assistant, a role once filled by Novak.
Staley is a longtime Conservative supporter, having donated to the unsuccessful 2004 leadership campaign of Tony Clement, who is now president of the treasury board. He has also donated to Clement’s riding association and to the Oak Ridges — Markham riding association of Paul Calandra. In a recent post on his Facebook page, Staley voiced his support for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. “In 2014 if forced to choose between Rob Ford and Olivia Chow, I’d still vote for Rob Ford, so long as he remains out of prison. Even what may be a cracked out Rob Ford has done a better job as mayor than David Miller. Plus he’s a lot of fun to watch.”
The government should make sure that it eventually accounts for whatever it spends on lawyers dealing with this investigation, because the costs were incurred because of government missteps, says Gregory Thomas of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “What taxpayers should be provided with is the bill for all this at the end of the day,” he said in an interview Thursday. “What did the Duffy scandal cost the government in legal advice? How many lawyers were hired to advise the government, and what was the total bill? It goes to the competence of the government.”
The prime minister should just use Justice Department lawyers, says NDP MP Charlie Angus. “The prime minister’s office is hunkering down for a big legal fight,” he said. “They’re circling the wagons. They’re bringing in the big legal guns. They appear to be sticking the taxpayer with it when there’s Justice Department lawyers available.” Angus says the fact the PMO is going outside for legal help raises questions about how co-operative the PMO is being with the investigation. “The prime minister’s office says his office is not under investigation and they’re doing everything to co-operate but why are they bringing in probably very, very expensive hired guns? [Emphasis added]
In hockey book, Harper thanks now-disgraced chief of staff for help with ethics by The Canadian Press, November 29, 2013, Calgary Herald
This may require a little prime ministerial stickhandling. Stephen J. Harper, hockey author, relied for ethical advice on the same former senior staffer he now says is solely responsible for an ethics scandal rattling his Conservative government. The prime minister’s long-awaited hockey history, “A Great Game,” was released earlier this month and in the acknowledgments Harper credits the assistance of Nigel Wright, his now-disgraced chief of staff. Harper says several staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office helped on the book — with “minimal impact” on their official duties, of course — and credits Wright for the advice and liaison he provided with the federal ethics commissioner. “Nigel Wright similarly assisted with advice and liaison with Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, whose office was forthright and constructive,” Harper writes. Wright has become Harper’s go-to whipping boy since he resigned — or was fired — from the PMO last May over his role in an ongoing Senate expense scandal. Harper has stressed repeatedly in the House of Commons that Wright alone is under RCMP investigation in an alleged bribery and breach of trust scheme with former Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy. “On our side there is one person responsible for this deception and that person is Mr. Wright. It is Mr. Wright by his own admission,” the prime minister said in the House of Commons last month. [Emphasis added]