The lawyer for the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit is fighting an attempt by the City of Saint John to get a list of names of people alleging abuse by former police officer Kenneth Estabrooks.

John McKiggan told a court the names are protected by solicitor-client privilege. 

He said the people who have contacted his office may yet choose to opt out of the court action or choose to pursue individual claims against the municipality.

The suit was launched by Robert (Bobby) Hayes on behalf of himself and other people allegedly abused by Estabrooks between 1953 and 1998.

The suit lists the City of Saint John, its police commission and the city police department as defendants.

Estabrooks was a Saint John police sergeant. When confronted in 1975, he admitted to sexually abusing children but was not charged or fired.

Instead, he was transferred out of the police department into the city works department, where he was in charge of tire maintenance for city vehicles until he retired.

'We'd like to have the information in advance so we know what we're dealing with.' - Michael Brenton, lawyer representing the City of Saint John

In 1997, after new complainants came forward, a formal investigation was launched resulting in his conviction.

He was sentenced to six years in prison. He died in 2005.

McKiggan argued before Court of Queen's Bench Justice William Grant the city is over-reaching in its application for the names.

He argued there is no reason anyone would need them at this stage unless they intended to "harass, intimidate and investigate my clients in advance."

Speaking to reporters after Monday's hearing, McKiggan would not say how many individuals have approached his firm, only that the number is "significant."

In September 2013, a private investigator hired by the city said 53 individuals had contacted him alleging they were sexually abused by Estabrooks.

But the total number of victims, said Dave Perry of Toronto-based Investigative Solutions, could be as high as 263.

A need for separate class actions 

The city is represented in the case by lawyer Michael Brenton, who told the court his clients are trying to sort out whether claims are being filed by people alleging abuse while Estabrooks was a police officer, while he was a city works employee, or during the period after Estabrooks retired in 1984.

Brenton said Estabrooks' relationship with the city during each period is different and he argued there may be a need for three separate class actions, rather than one covering 45 years.

"We say the class period [1953 to 1998] may be too broad," said Brenton.

He told the court his clients would accept, if necessary, a number or some other type of identifier for each individual, instead of the person's name.

All sides are scheduled to be in court in July for a certification motion to determine whether the case may proceed as a class action.

"We'd like to have the information in advance so we know what we're dealing with," said Brenton.