Lawyer at Phoenix Sinclair inquiry found in conflict
Inquiry commissioner considers billing law firm for cost of delay
A Winnipeg law firm could be on the hook for costs associated with the latest delay in the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry.
The inquiry was put back on hold Tuesday morning after commissioner Ted Hughes ruled on lawyer Kris Saxberg's conflict of interest.
Saxberg has been representing twelve clients at the inquiry, including regional child-welfare authorities as well as some supervisors and managers — clients who could be at odds with one another.
Hughes recently asked the Law Society of Manitoba for an opinion and the society determined there were three instances of conflict of interest.
Last week, after the matter was first raised, Saxberg informed the inquiry that some of his clients will be getting new lawyers.
On Tuesday morning, Hughes blamed Saxberg and his law firm, D'Arcy Deacon, for not taking a good look at the client load to determine possible conflicts.
"The conflict of interest that has occurred here was created by Mr. Saxberg," Hughes said told the inquiry.
Kris Saxberg’s clients
General CFS Authority
Northern Manitoba CFS Authority
Southern CFS Authority
All Nations Coordinated Response Network
Roberta Dick, child protection worker
Diva Faria and Diana Verrier, supervisors with Winnipeg CFS
Della Fines, social worker with Winnipeg CFS
Dan Berg and Rob Wilson, assistant program managers with Winnipeg CFS
Trudy Carpenter, administrative support worker with Winnipeg CFS
Jan Christianson Wood, former chief medical examiner
He noted that all inquiry counsel were sent letters a year ago to take "a long hard look" at their client lists to ensure this type of situation would be avoided.
"If Mr. Saxberg and those associated with him at D’Arcy Deacon had taken the ‘long hard look’ recommended by commission counsel, they would not have faced this difficulty, which has plagued the commission over recent weeks," said Hughes in his 45-minute ruling.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Saxberg told CBC he doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest.
Regardless, new lawyers have been arranged for some of Saxberg’s clients and that will further drive up the cost of an inquiry that has already cost the province more than $6 million.
Hughes said Saxberg created the conflict by taking so many retainers, and the inquiry will consider billing the law firm for costs arising from the conflict and its delays.
"Now there will be new lawyers that will have to pick up and have to get up to speed, and in some cases, two lawyers," said Commission Counsel Sherri Walsh.
Hughes is requesting the province to review the expenditures caused by the conflict.
Saxberg said he doesn’t believe his firm should have to reimburse the province for anything.
"What are we paying for? What delay? In the last two weeks the Commission was delayed because of a motion we weren't participating in," said Saxberg.
"He has quite clearly laid blame on D'arcy and Deacon for not recognizing the conflict earlier. That's something that of course we don't agree with because we don't agree that there is a conflict in the first place."
Law professor David Asper said it doesn’t matter what Saxberg believes about his conflict of interest, changes will have to be made.
"Mr. Saxberg may appeal or challenge the opinions of the Law Society, but the Law Society has spoken, so at this point, Mr. Saxberg and the law firm have to live with that."The inquiry is examining how child welfare failed to protect Phoenix Sinclair, a former foster child who was beaten to death in 2005 after social workers gave her back to her birth mother.
Sinclair’s one-time foster mother, Kim Edwards, said the delays are disappointing, but the overall goal of the inquiry remains important.
"If a delay is what it’s going to take in order to get to the truth of this, then so bet it," said Edwards.
The inquiry will resume in early April.