Some of the legal work for a $10-billion, smoking lawsuit to be filed by the Alberta government has been given to a Progressive Conservative-connected Calgary law firm in which a partner is the ex-husband of Premier Alison Redford, CBC has learned.
The Alberta portion of the legal work has been given to Jensen, Shawa, Solomon, Duguid, Hawkes, a firm that includes partner Robert Hawkes, who is Redford’s former husband and was the leader of her transition team when she was first elected leader of the Progressive Conservative party.
'The millions of dollars it will generate, it appears...they’re giving to one of their buddies'—Shayne Saskiw, Wildrose
Hawkes is a long-time Conservative supporter and former party worker who is also active in provincial politics.
"Something smells," Wildrose justice critic Shayne Saskiw said Thursday. "The millions of dollars it will generate, it appears, on the face of it, they’re giving to one of their buddies."
Largest legal action in Alberta's history
Saskiw said Wildrose will be asking the government to explain how this firm came to be chosen and when it was chosen.
On Wednesday, Redford, who is the former justice minister, announced the largest legal action in the province’s history.
The lawsuit represents an attempt by the government to recover billions of dollars of health-care costs accrued over the past several decades.
In a news release, the government said the legal work will be handled by a consortium — Tobacco Recovery Lawyers LLP, but it made no mention of an Alberta law firm.
Carsten Jensen is the senior partner with the law firm who will be responsible for the tobacco litigation. He said it is one of two Alberta firms in the five-firm legal consortium, which includes two firms in Ontario and one in the United States. Alberta Justice selected the consortium through an open, independent process.
"It was a competitive bid process," Jensen said. "I am not aware of any politics in the process. I am not political. My two partners (who will be working on the case) are not political.
"I personally have not seen any room in the process for political interference."
Jensen said he never met with Redford in relation to the selection process. He said Hawkes will have no involvement in the file.
A spokesman for Alberta Justice said the selection process included checks for conflicts of interest.
"TRL was selected after a rigorous review process and negotiations ... concluded in June 2011," said Dan Laville. "Given the importance of this lawsuit, we wanted a strong Alberta focus."
Redford was Alberta's justice minister during part of the selection process, before she became Tory leader in October 2011.
She stepped down from cabinet in February 2011 when she entered the leadership race.
Partner was Redford's transition team leader
It will take years to litigate this massive lawsuit and one lawyer with extensive experience in large-scale litigation said it could generate a potentially massive payout for the firm through contingency fees, in which it would receive a percentage of any settlement extracted from the tobacco industry.
"This is a home-run case for any law firm," said the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Alberta is the sixth province to sue the tobacco industry.
The five others – Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – hired the same legal consortium, led by national firm Bennett Jones, to conduct their litigation.
Alberta decided to go with its consortium but said it would consult with the other provinces.