STRATFORD, Ont. - Meth-amphetamines have plagued the Stratford area for about four years but a local lawyer being charged with possession of the schedule-one drug has put a new twist on a difficult problem.
Thomas Brigham is scheduled to represent himself when he goes to trial here Oct. 17 in the Ontario Court of Justice.
The 58-year-old lawyer had represented clients charged with meth-related offences before he was charged with possession of the drug April 11 after being arrested by Stratford city police.
Four others were charged, including a former client of Brigham's, but those charges were later dropped.
Methamphetamine, a highly addictive and debilitating drug, has troubled the city of Stratford and county of Perth since dangerous meth labs starting showing up in outlying areas of the city.
They eventually made their way into city limits with explosive fanfare, evidenced by a basement lab blowing up in a quiet south Stratford neighbourhood in late 2003.
The courts have since seen dozens of accused facing charges stemming from producing and possessing meth or spin-off crimes related to adverse affects and necessity, such as thefts and breaches of probation. Sentences have ranged from a few months to as much as four years for production.
The effects have caught the attention of civic leaders, who set up the Perth County Task Force on Crystal Meth, which has lobbied the government for increased awareness and opened eyes about the problem. The drug, which is cheaply made and affordable on the street, has seemingly affected all segments of society.
Brigham once represented Dan McCool, who has a prior conviction for meth production and is considered the first person in the Stratford area to cook meth and teach others how to produce it.
Brigham represented McCool and another accused, Terry Baillie, but a federal prosecutor's request to have the lawyer removed as counsel of record was accepted by a judge. The Crown said representing two clients in the same case was a conflict of interest because Brigham was privy to information from both. He was removed from the case.
Lawyers at the Administration of Justice building in downtown Stratford were surprised to hear one of their own had been charged with meth possession but none wanted to go on the record to comment about it.
The veteran lawyer hasn't been around the courthouse much. He declined comment when asked about his court case.
An out-of-town prosecutor and judge will be brought in for the case.
The Law Society of Upper Canada said it could conduct its own investigation. Brigham was given an administrative suspension by the law society on June 15, 2006, for reasons unrelated to the charges, a spokesperson for the law society said after his arrest.
His suspension was news to some of Brigham's clients, who appeared in Ontario Court of Justice over the ensuing weeks expecting their lawyer to represent them. Some clients had to ask a judge for more time to get new counsel because Brigham failed to show up for court. They included a woman who was scheduled to be sentenced.
Brigham was apparently unaware he was suspended and unable to practise law, a duty counsel lawyer told the judge.
Brigham set his trial date in June.