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Harper’s onetime lawyer faces hearing

|Written By Tim Naumetz

OTTAWA - An Ottawa lawyer with Conservative connections in high places is facing three days of hearings this month over allegations he billed the City of Ottawa for work he did not perform.

The allegations of professional misconduct against Emanuel (Manny) Montenegrino, a partner and registered lobbyist with Lang Michener LLP, were made to the Law Society of Upper Canada last year by Daniel Leduc, a former partner at that firm. Leduc has since joined the Ottawa office of Ogilvy Renault LLP. The hearing is slated to begin Jan. 29. The allegations have not been proven.

Montenegrino, who was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s lawyer in a wrongful dismissal suit brought by Harper’s former chef and who has also represented Environment Minister John Baird, declined to comment on the case.

His lawyer for the law society hearings, Allan O’Brien, also would not discuss the allegations.

However, O’Brien says that despite the complaint from Leduc and the law society hearings, the City of Ottawa continues to retain Lang Michener and “specifically continues to retain Mr. Montenegrino.”

The notice of the hearing on the law society web site says “particulars of alleged misconduct” against Montenegrino claim he “engaged in improper billing practices and procedures” in connection with his client, the City of Ottawa, and that from November 2001 to December 2003 “submitted accounts to your client, the City of Ottawa, for services that you did not perform.”

A media relations officer with the city was unable to say what kind of legal work Montenegrino performed. City solicitor Rick O’Connor was unavailable for comment.

O’Brien tells Law Times that, despite the allegations, the city has not taken legal action against Montenegrino or filed a claim for money it might be owed.

A one-page written statement from Lang Michener, the only comment the firm has made on the affair, also notes the city “conducted its own review and determined that it received good value for accounts rendered.

“Indeed, the City of Ottawa has remained supportive of Lang Michener and Mr. Montenegrino throughout the process and the client relationship has continued,” the statement says.

The statement  says the complaint from Leduc represented less than one per cent of Lang Michener fees charged to the City of Ottawa during the two years and adds, “The firm itself has never been under

investigation.”

Montenegrino has been active behind the scenes in Ottawa Conservative ranks for more than two decades; he came under fire last year when he represented Harper while Montenegrino was also registered to lobby Harper’s office on behalf of the Air Canada Pilots Association.

Harper’s communications director, Sandra Buckler, said at the time Montenegrino did not lobby the prime minister himself. The pilots were in a dispute over seniority rights with pilots who had joined Air Canada from the defunct Canadian Airlines.

Among Montenegrino’s 11 clients listed last week on the federal public registry of lobbyists were Reader’s Digest Magazines, Wendy’s International Inc., the Association of Canadian Distillers, and Sandoz Canada Inc.

Press reports describe Montenegrino as a former Liberal who switched to the Tories under Brian Mulroney in 1984, but joined the Reform party in the wake of Mulroney’s failed constitutional gambits. He was a fundraiser for the United Alternative movement that eventually led to the Canadian Alliance and ultimately to the reunited Conservative Party of Canada.

Montenegrino is a networker in Ottawa who, while at the vanguard of efforts to keep the NHL Senators franchise in the city in 2000, arranged a meeting between then-Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli and Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day (now the federal public safety minister), to help the team. Montenegrino was described in press reports as a friend of Chiarelli’s.

Lang Michener, which former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien joined during his interlude from politics between 1986 and 1990, describes Montenegrino in the firm’s biography as an “emissary” who takes concerns to the forefront of government circles and initiates action early on in client relations with government to “alleviate bureaucratic confusion.

“This proactive approach also results in immense financial and organizational rewards for those he represents,” the biography says. “Through astutely crafting a political win-win resolution to the parties, Manny assists his clientele in avoiding lengthy and expensive litigation.”

The description adds that Montenegrino’s approach also is a “palatable solution for the governmental authorities involved.”

His legal work for Harper while acting as a lobbyist drew attention to high-profile cases of prominent Conservatives who became lobbyists after the election of the Harper government. They include former MP John Reynolds from B.C., at Lang Michener in Vancouver, and Ken Boessenkool, one of Harper’s closest former confidantes.

Montenegrino represented Baird last year in a potential defamation case, serving a libel notice to a former Liberal strategist over comments she made about Baird on a television political talk show.

He later wrote the Liberal party on behalf of Ottawa Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre to defend Poilievre against allegations he defamed a Liberal MP during a radio interview.

Harper and his wife, Laureen, eventually settled the lawsuit from the former chef out of court.

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