Judge rejects attempt to shut down Helena Guergis lawsuit by Stephen Maher, January 16, 2014, canada.com
Helena Guergis won the right to continue her defamation suit Thursday against Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton and private detective Derrick Snowdy. In Ottawa, Judge Charles Hackland rejected an argument from Glover’s lawyer, Robert Staley, who is also the lawyer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that Guergis’s case be put on hold until she has paid costs from a related lawsuit.
Harper fired Guergis as minister for status of women and kicked her out of the Conservative Party in April 2010 after Snowdy brought allegations of criminal conduct, linking Guergis and her husband, former MP Rahim Jaffer, with fraudsters, prostitutes and cocaine users in what became known as the “busty hookers” scandal. Guergis was cleared by the RCMP. She ran unsuccessfully as an independent in Simcoe-Grey in 2011 and is now studying law in Edmonton.
Hackland threw out Guergis’s lawsuit against Harper and other Conservatives in 2012, ruling that he did not have jurisdiction over decisions about who should be in cabinet or in a political caucus. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the suit was an abuse of process, blocking further legal action against most defendants. Last summer, Guergis filed an amended statement of claim — against Snowdy, Hamilton, the lawyer who handled the file for Harper, his firm, Cassels Brock, and Glover, who said in a 2010 CTV interview that “there is far more to come out” about Guergis.
Staley argued Thursday that the case should be stayed until Guergis pays $124,960 in costs awarded against the defendants. In October, Guergis’s lawyer, Stephen Victor, emailed Staley saying that “she can only afford to pay $30 a month on account of the costs awards.” That payment will not cover the interest on the costs, Staley said, pointing out it will take 347 years to pay the outstanding costs. “Her evidence is that it doesn’t matter how much time you give her,” he said. “She is telling you she doesn’t have the capacity to pay.” Before he finished his argument, though, Hackland said he would let Guergis go ahead. “I just think it is not in the interests of justice, especially in a matter of public interest, which this is, to summarily stay or dismiss an action in the current circumstances,” he said.
The case law cited by Staley refers to cases being thrown out when the plaintiff had flouted the law, said Victor, which is not the case here. “It is absolutely clear and unchallenged that she’s impecunious, and she tells you she intends to pay,” he said.
The next step is likely to be a motion from Hamilton, who is expected to argue that Guergis’s suit against him be dismissed. In her amended statement of claim, Guergis says that during the days before she was fired by Harper, she disclosed confidential information to Hamilton because she believed they had a lawyer-client relationship. According to Guergis’s unproven claims, Snowdy and Hamilton falsely stated that a video existed of her snorting cocaine from the breast of a prostitute.
Most of the defendants in the case are “indemnified” by the Crown, since they ended up facing legal jeopardy in the course of their duties. Instead of having justice department lawyers represent them, Harper and his aides have employed Staley, billing the taxpayers. The government won’t say what rate Staley is charging, citing solicitor-client privilege, but he is a top Bay Street litigator with Bennett Jones, and competitors say he likely bills in the $900-an-hour range. The government doesn’t regularly report details of what it spends on outside legal help, but in response to an order paper question from Liberal MP John McCallum, the Privy Council Office reported that taxpayers had paid $62,000 for legal assistance for fiscal 2012-13 for Harper, and others in connection with Guergis legal matters. [Emphasis added]