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Goodmans top biller for legal services to AG

|Written By Shannon Kari - Law Times

TheOntario Ministry of the Attorney General spent at least $12 million on outsidelegal services last year, according to information disclosed in the 2004-2005public accounts.

The exact total however, may be much higher, since the province does not list individual accounts that are less than $50,000. Overall payments by the ministry for accounts under $50,000 were $49 million. It is not known what percentage of this number was made up of legal costs.

The top billing firm was Goodmans LLP, which was paid $1.35 million by the ministry for legal services. It is believed that a large percentage of this total may have been generated by civil litigator Benjamin Zarnett, who has

frequently been retained by the province. He is currently acting for the government in the ongoing court proceedings involving Stelco Inc.

A spokeswoman for Goodmans said it would not be appropriate for the firm to comment about any of its retainers, including ones by the province.

The second highest total, $639,000, was generated by Toronto firm Hunt Partners LLP. Its senior partner, Douglas Hunt, was retained by the Ontario Judicial Council in 2004 to prosecute the Kerry Evans disciplinary proceeding. Evans resigned as a provincial court judge after a disciplinary panel found him guilty of misconduct.

More than 1,000 lawyers employed by the Ministry of the Attorney General earned in excess of $100,000 in 2004, according to the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act.

But a spokesman for the ministry said it "must occasionally retain outside counsel."

This occurs when "specialized expertise" is required, there is a potential conflict of interest or it is more cost-effective to hire outside counsel, explained Brendan Crawley.

The legal bills included payments, generally ranging from about $60,000 to $80,000, to dozens of individual lawyers across the province, usually in smaller centres.

McCarthy Tétrault LLP, the former law firm of Attorney General Michael Bryant, charged $487,000, the ministry's fourth-highest legal bill. Goodman and Carr LLP, where Bryant's wife Susan Abram-ovitch is a partner, had the sixth-highest bill at $442,000.

Crawley stressed that since Bryant was named attorney general and "at his request," he has been "screened from all matters" where McCarthy Tétrault or Goodman and Carr have been retained.

The information on legal costs, while public, is not available online and is in volume three of the public accounts.

Virtually every provincial ministry has significant outside legal bills, although it's an arduous process to get an overall picture of the payments without painstakingly going through the public accounts books.

But some of the government's other payouts include $852,000 from the Ministry of Energy to Osler Hoskin Harcourt LLP in 2004. Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP billed the Ministry of Health $522,000 and Management Board Secretariat $104,000. Hughes Amys LLP was also paid $988,000 by Management Board Secretariat.

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