Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I am shocked, shocked to find that lawyers give money to politicians

One of the first articles posted at Northern Insights was a praise piece about Norman Spector. You cannot read it now. It is gone, retroactively redacted by the truth fairy. A few moments of Monday's CKNW session involving Spector and Bill Good confirmed that my previous opinion needed revision. I still regard Spector as a cagey old pundit, able to analyze and discuss a political situation with great precision, if he cares to do so. However, as Vancouver Sun Editor-in-Chief Patricia Graham says, sometimes, there are agendas to deal with.

Most of us will remember a scene in the classic movie Casablanca. German officers ordered Captain Renault to close Rick's Café. In response, the Claude Rain's character turned to Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and said, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" Captain Renault emptied the room but first took his share of the night's take because, of course, Rick's indeed was a casino.

Like Captain Renault, Norman Spector has had his own shocking epiphany this week and he told us about it on CKNW. The radio conversation had turned to special prosecutors and cash flowing to BC Liberal party coffers from special prosecutors and BC law firms, even legal offices that have been billing substantial fees to the BC Liberal government and its agencies. First, Bill Good asked, "Is our system broken or was this simply a matter of one person with bad judgment?" Spector had this to say:
"I think it's exposed a hole that, I'll admit, that I did not see. I've been very very high on this special prosecutor system. In this case, the real problem was caused by Mr. Robertson himself. He should not have accepted the assignment. He should have brought this to the attention of Mr. Gillen at the Attorney General's ministry and not accepted the assignment, or other assignments either, the assignment looking into Ken Dobell, the assignment looking into Bountiful. The whole range of it.

I think it's opened an even bigger hole than the question of political contributions and it's this. A lot of these law firms that are donating money – since 2005 by the way, only to the Liberals – are also doing a lot of government business, whether it's for ICBC or Hydro etc. And, I think that really compromises the independence of the partners of those firms. Because, you nail the senior provincial person and you could easily find the government work drying up and government work constitutes a large part of the work of some of these law firms. So, I'll be the first to admit that I did not foresee this hole but I think that something fundamental is going to have to be done beyond the little tweak or the little regret that Terry Robertson did not reveal his conflict of interest before he took on the assignment."
Well, I suppose the subject just never came up before. Who would have imagined that law firms would be taking public money from government while shipping cash toward elections funds of that same government? Or, that special prosecutors investigating members of the government might be compromised by existing financial relationships between the prosecutor and the politicians?

Certainly, no professionals or executives should be expected to understand anything about conflicts of interest. After all, this is a 20th century concept, rarely discussed in universities and boardrooms. I even checked a catalog and found fewer than 1,500 books published on the subject. One of them, by the way defines it:
"A conflict of interest refers to a situation or set of circumstances that creates the possibility that a professional may provide a judgment or take an action motivated by something other than the interests or well-being of someone owed a professional duty."
In the Terrence Robertson case, he never considered the possibility of a conflict. A person less honorable might have supposed that the people who appointed him special prosecutor had an interest in his decisions and therefore, were more or less likely to appoint him again according to their views of the decisions rendered. And that instead, by taking payment from the public, he owed his professional duty to the public interest.

British Columbia's political nabobs make interesting claims that one rogue lawyer derailed the special prosecutor process by not revealing his conflict of interest. Come on gentlemen, a real surprise would have been the discovery that Robertson's law firm was not a substantial Liberal contributor. And, Robert Gillen QC, the Deputy Attorney General who appointed Robertson, did not fall off a turnip truck from the back forty. He had no knowledge that lawyers are heavy political contributors and could be seen as partisans?

The people who claim that decisions are made in the Criminal Justice Branch without concern for political factors should remember that Allan Seckel QC, moved directly from running the CJB to serving as Premier Campbell's Deputy Minister. Some separation of duties and interests, eh?

I have it on good authority that William Berardino never considered the possibility of a conflict in his Basi/Virk prosecution, despite the close ties he has had to Liberal politicians and bureaucrats. And, of course, the aforementioned Mr. Seckel played a large role in the Basi/Virk case, deciding on government disclosure of evidence.

Bill Good, still warming up after vacation time, only took time to point out that lawyers may have contributed to NDP election funds a decade or two ago. That was pretty timely analysis, I was starting to think something was wrong with Liberals.
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1 comment:

  1. It seems there is an understanding between business and the Libs in this province. A little donation here and there makes friendships blossom. Don't forget, all those lawyers are running a business, trying to make as much coin as they can for themselves and their partners. Money first, integrity second.

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