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'It wrecks families, cases like this'

Arguments at Pickton hearing focus on emotional toll on lawyers in notorious cases

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Notorious cases like that of accused serial killer Robert Pickton and child-killer Clifford Olson exact a huge toll on the lawyers who represent them, B.C. Supreme Court was told Monday.

Felicity don

A preliminary hearing for accused serial killer Robert Pickton was delayed for one week in court Monday.

In fact, Pickton's lawyer said his office received three "disgusting hate calls" Monday that deeply disturbed staff.

"It is quite troubling," Peter Ritchie told B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm at the outset of his arguments about how much government money a defence team representing Pickton should be paid.

Dohm agreed that the calls were troubling, but said: "I think in the times we find ourselves, it is not surprising."

Earlier in the day, a provincial court judge granted a one-week delay in Pickton's preliminary hearing so efforts could continue in B.C. Supreme Court to finalize a funding arrangement with the attorney-general's ministry.

But while money was part of the testimony, so was the difficult toll on lawyers who represent people in emotionally charged murder cases.

It was described in Supreme Court as "the Shantz factor," named after Robert Shantz, the defence lawyer who represented Clifford Olson.

"I know all about the Shantz factor," testified lawyer Howard Rubin, one of two witnesses called by Ritchie to testify about defence-team funding.

"It wrecks families, cases like this," said Rubin, who was involved in the Olson case.

He said his children, then in high school, were taunted because of the notoriety around the Olson case.

"There has to be someone to do these cases," Rubin said. "They are not exactly cases you enjoy getting involved in."

He said he would not take on a case like Pickton's because it also takes its toll on lawyers' practices, as other clients are lost because of the time commitment to one case.

"When you finish the case, you don't have any part of your practice left. You have to start building it up again," Rubin said. "It affects your practice as a whole."

Rubin, who said he has done 13 or 14 murder cases in his 35-year career, explained that a defence team needs to carefully examine all the evidence, first looking at it as the police and the prosecution has, and then re-evaluating it as a criminal lawyer.

"All of the key witnesses are going to have to be interviewed in this case," he said. "The problem in this case is the time track -- the chronology of the case."

Rubin called the case against Pickton "a work in progress" in that the continuing investigation has seen the murder counts increase from two to 15 over several months.

"I have never seen a case with this kind of timeline before," he said. "I wouldn't do this case."

Ritchie has asked to be paid about $200 an hour by the B.C. government, which has only offered the senior defence lawyer $150 an hour, with a ceiling on how many hours can be billed.

Lawyer Gordon Turriff, a specialist in financial arrangements between lawyers and clients, testified that first-year lawyers in Vancouver are billing $150 an hour, while some senior lawyers at large firms are billing over $500 an hour.

"The top lawyers are charging a rate of $350 or more," said Turriff, including Ritchie in that group.

The court did not address how much the three prosecutors working on the case are receiving, but the salary range for Crown lawyers is from about $40,000 to about $110,000 plus benefits.

Turriff, who is also a bencher of the B.C. Law Society, said that if lawyers charge too little, they will be tempted to cut corners in defending their clients.

He said the rates the government is offering for three lawyers for Pickton are "unreasonably low."

Turriff also referred to "the Shantz factor," saying to Ritchie: "I understand that Mr. Shantz was the subject of some of the treatment you were describing."

"We need to ensure that members of our professions step forward," Turriff said.

George Copley, representing the attorney-general's ministry, expressed concern about a defence request to get copies of funding arrangements between defence lawyers in the Air India case and the B.C. government.

"None of those documents is relevant in these proceedings," Copley said to Dohm, who said it would be discussed at a later date.

Turriff also said that while the hourly rates he quoted seem high, lawyers must pay their own overhead and don't normally bill for all the time put into a case.

But Copley asked Turriff if clients like banks and governments have some leverage to get preferred rates because they are guaranteed to pay their bills.

Copley also suggested that criminal lawyers generally have lower overhead than do civil lawyers at large firms.

Copley said that at some of the hourly rates suggested by Turriff, senior lawyers billing more than 2,000 hours a year would be bringing in over $1 million.

"The market pays higher than the rates quoted here today," Turriff said of the government's offer. "The problem is if you drive the price too low, you have the wrong people doing the work."

The hearing was to continue in camera today.

kbolan@pacpress.southam.ca 

 Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun

Courtesy of

Picktons bid for legal help goes behind closed doors-Nov 2, 2002

 

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Updated: January 01, 2007