Big-time legal

The Gomery commission was a big-time inquiry that cost big-time money. It ended being the most expensive in Canadian history. The commission itself came in under budget at $32 million for two years of work. But that's just the start.The Hill by Richard ClerouxThe Liberal government spent another $35 million to defend its collective rear end and those of the Liberal appointees it had tucked into various Crown corporations and an embassy in Denmark.
Under Canadian law, the federal government is duty-bound to pay the legal costs of all public servants, Crown corporation heads included, who are accused or under fire for wrongdoing while on the job. There were a lot of them in the sponsorship scandal.
So put the final cost of everything at about $70 million, including about $22 million in lawyers' fees ($8 million for commission lawyers and $14 million for those representing witnesses).
Canadians can't complain. These inquiries don't come cheaply. If Canadians don't like it, they may not be so quick to call for an inquiry next time.
Good lawyers don't come for free. The witnesses trotted out before Justice John Gomery hired — as was their right — top-flight lawyers who charged the federal government $300 to $500 a hour — as was their right also.
Some were allowed — in contracts signed with the federal government — to bill for up to 10 or 12 hours a day, some for up to 100 days a year, and some for as long as the full two years.
It doesn't take an accounting genius to figure out the numbers here — the kind of income many Canadians will never see in a lifetime.
Several lawyers danced around the million-dollar mark.
That is big-time money for big-time legal efforts defending big-time clients with plenty at stake. The findings ended up toppling a national government. It doesn't get any bigger. Chief commission counsel Bernard Roy (a one-time principal secretary to Brian Mulroney) who is with Ogilvy Renault LLP in Montreal, topped the billings at $1.56 million.
Commission co-counsel Neil Finkelstein, of Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP in Toronto, billed $1.16 million. Commission associate counsel Guy Cournoyer was a stitch higher at $1.17 million. He worked unthinkable hours, and charged only $250 an hour.
Another 27 lawyers working for the commission charged a total of $4.1 million. Some worked weeks and months, others only a few days. Their rates varied greatly depending on experience and skills.
Pierre Fournier, who brought along two daughters, both lawyers, charged more than $700,000 in fees for representing former Public Works minister Alfonso Gagliano. They did a brilliant job, by all accounts.
Richard Auger of Edelson and Associates in Ottawa billed about $170,000 to represent Chuck Guité, the bureaucrat at the centre of the sponsorship program.
Guité faces fraud and conspiracy charges in May and has notified his lawyer that from now on he intends to represent himself in court. The government will no longer be paying legal fees.
The team of David Scott, Peter Doody and Jean-FranÁois Gallant, working for former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, a star witness, had billed $550,971 by last fall. The final figure may be higher.
 Gomery was the best bargain of all. He collected his regular judge's salary of $224,200 a year from the Quebec Superior Court and was there every day of the inquiry.
The public was outraged that crooked advertising agencies had stolen $40 million from the sponsorship program and insisted the government go after that money.
So the government hired Montreal lawyer André Gauthier. Unfortunately, recovering filched funds is not always easy. Gauthier and his team did manage to get $1 million out of ad agency boss Paul Coffin, who admitted having taken $1.5 million. A deal was arranged with the courts and Coffin got to teach at McGill University as his punishment, until the outraged students stopped the scheme. But the government got a million dollars back.
As for Gauthier, he sent the government a bill for $1 million.
After that the government switched over to Sylvain Lussier to get back the remaining $39 million. Good luck, Lussier.
"Yes, I billed for close to a million," says one lawyer who was at the inquiry. "I am not ashamed. There were expenses. Lots. Trips to Ottawa and Montreal, hotels, meals, photocopies, documents, a full-time secretary handling the paperwork out of Ottawa.
"And remember all my billings went into the firm's account, and get split up by the partners," he says. "Who knows how much I'll get."
Twenty months at the inquiry cost him private clients' practice, he says, but then, he adds, he became a star in the firm.
On the one hand, he chuckles, he doesn't worry about having to chase the government as a deadbeat account. Then again, the government will get "half of it back in taxes" plus GST on his billing.
There is one bright side: the lawyers billed $996,000 in GST. The government will get all that.

Richard Cleroux is a freelance reporter and columnist on Parliament Hill.

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