Picktonís lawyer quits

B.C. government's failure to help with legal fees means accused may have to represent himself

Kim Bolan

Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

The lawyer for accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton said Tuesday he has quit the criminal case, although he will continue to assist Pickton in his attempt to get government funding for his defence.

Peter Ritchie said he had no choice but to file a letter in Port Coquitlam provincial court removing his name from the file because the B.C. government has not yet agreed to assist in covering the costs of Pickton's defence on 15 counts of first-degree murder.

Chuck Stoody, Canadian Press

Peter Ritchie: "It is legally inadvisable to represent yourself in a case like this.

"We advised the court last week by letter that we have withdrawn from the case. We had to advise the court by Friday," Ritchie told a crowd of reporters outside B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

That means that the 52-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer could be representing himself when his preliminary hearing begins in provincial court Nov. 4.

"At present, that appears to be the situation," Ritchie said. "When you are in jail, it is not very nice and he wants the matter to move ahead as quickly as he can."

Ritchie said his opinion is that "it is legally inadvisable to represent yourself in a case like this."

"It is certainly sad for the work that we have done on it that we can no longer continue to represent him," he said.

Since a search began of Pickton's pig farm in February, the murder counts against him have mounted. All of his alleged victims are women who were on the list of 63 who have disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in recent years.

On paper, Pickton co-owns property assessed in the millions, but all of it is tied up by a police task force that continues to search for evidence in what has become Canada's largest serial-murder investigation.

Ritchie said he hopes to argue in B.C. Supreme Court in the next few days that the charges against Pickton should be stayed unless significant government money is made available so the defence can hire six lawyers in total, as well as expert witnesses and detectives.

If the money is forthcoming, Ritchie said he will consider rejoining the case, though it would be hard to proceed as scheduled on Nov. 4.

"We are scrambling to deal with this as quickly as we can," Ritchie said. "I have to put together a team of a number of lawyers and their own schedules are problematic and whether or not we can remain on schedule I think is unlikely."

Negotiations between the parties were bogged down by a six-page letter the government sent to Ritchie last week requesting detailed financial information about Pickton's assets.

Ritchie said it will take some time to hire a forensic accountant and provide the information, especially since he is tied up in another trial and his law partner, Marilyn Sanford, is off work with a broken arm.

"We have told our client and we are telling the government that we are quite prepared to cooperate and provide all that information as soon as we possibly can. But it is very detailed information -- things like how much does he owe on a backhoe and how many shares does he have," Ritchie said.

Attorney-General Geoff Plant said Tuesday it would be better if Pickton had a lawyer for the preliminary hearing, but the ministry has to protect taxpayers by doing "due diligence" before committing to provide government money.

He said his ministry has been waiting since June for financial information from Pickton "that explains why it is that someone who appears on the face of it to be something close to a millionaire now is apparently penniless."

"Fundamentally it comes down to this: if there are some liquid assets around, then I think Mr. Pickton should dedicate them to paying for his defence before the Crown has an obligation to step in. But if he can demonstrate he has no money readily available, then we will deal with it in the appropriate way at the appropriate time."

Plant acknowledged that some information had come from Pickton's lawyers before last week, but he said what was provided gave rise to further questions that were presented in the six-page letter Oct. 8.

"We do perform some due diligence to make sure we are not being taken for a ride and I don't intend to deviate from that course," Plant said.

He said he will consider an interim funding arrangement, but that another similar one in a recent case has not been successful. The other case is believed to be that of Air India bombing suspect Ripudaman Singh Malik, a millionaire who also applied for government money for his defence team.

"It is Mr. Pickton's obligation to tell us in some detail how much he is worth and why it is he has reached the stage of apparent pennilessness," Plant said. "And when he starts to take that request seriously and starts to deal with it seriously, then we will take his request for funding seriously."

Geoff Gaul, who speaks for the three-person prosecution team, said preparations for the preliminary hearing won't be stalled by Tuesday's developments.

He said that normally, if an accused person is representing him or herself, all the evidence is handed over to that individual by the Crown.

"If an accused doesn't have counsel, then disclosure goes to the accused," Gaul said.

But he said the attorney-general's ministry can still make a decision to proceed by direct indictment, bypassing the preliminary hearing to go straight to trial.

"A direct indictment can be made at any time," Gaul said. "It can be filed before the prelim, during the prelim or after the prelim." 

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Updated: August 21, 2016