Reporters ejected from B.C. court as pig farmer funding feud goes in camera

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

VANCOUVER (CP) -- In a highly unusual move Tuesday, reporters were ordered out the courtroom as lawyers began closed-door hearings to try to resolve the issue of funding for the defence of accused serial killer Robert Pickton.

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Accused serial killer Robert Pickton watched court proceedings via video link up until May 23, when he made his first court appearance in person.

The preliminary hearing for the pig farmer was to begin next week.

Reporters were told to leave the B.C. Supreme Court hearing while Pickton's lawyer and the Attorney General's Ministry continued arguments over how much money and how many lawyers the defence needs to properly represent the man.

The so-called Rowbotham application was ordered heard in camera by Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm to allow the Crown to outline its case against Pickton and give his lawyer, Peter Ritchie, time to respond

Ritchie has rejected an offer by the ministry, calling evidence earlier in the week that the fees of $150 an hour for himself and $72 an hour for junior lawyers were too low.

He has proposed a top rate of $200 an hour.

The defence wants legal aid for six lawyers while the Crown is proposing a lead counsel, two senior lawyers and any number of junior lawyers as long as their total hours are capped.

Pickton, 52, is charged with the first-degree murders of 15 of 63 women who have disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

As he did during a hearing Monday in suburban Port Coquitlam, Pickton appeared via videolink. He sat mostly motionless in the usual prison-issue red shirt and pants but appeared to be following the proceedings.

Ritchie called a witness to try to bolster his argument that the funding offered for his defence was inadequate for such a huge case.

He asked longtime lawyer Ken Westlake if a proposed "cap" of 37.4 hours a week for each of the defence team members was adequate.

"This case is unique," said Westlake, adding that he found that such a cap "made no sense to me."

He said the Pickton case was "a work in progress" as police continued their investigation, and that more disclosure from the Crown was likely to be forthcoming.

Ritchie has officially withdrawn as Pickton's lawyer because of the funding dispute, but still represents him in his funding application to the B.C. Supreme Court.

He has also continued to appear in the Port Coquitlam hearings as a "friend of the court," saying Pickton cannot represent himself.

Ritchie has said he expects the funding issue to be resolved by the higher court by the end of the week but that he would still be unable to proceed with the preliminary hearing next Tuesday.

Westlake also testified that he has worked on many huge cases, estimating that the complexity of the Pickton case would require lawyers to work between 70 and 100 hours a week.

He estimated that Pickton's defence team should have at least eight lawyers.

Westlake said he had recently completed a six-week trial that was "one-tenth as complicated as this."

The funding hearing in B.C. Supreme Court was to continue all week and Dohm must make a decision on whether the funding proposed by the government is adequate.

 Copyright  2002 Canadian Press

Courtesy of Canada.Com and Canadian Press



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