New Brunswick

Agriculture minister's assistant denies assaulting road worker

Shawn Douthwright, assistant to Agriculture Minister Ross Wetmore, pleaded not guilty Friday to assaulting Scott McLaughlan, a provincial employee.

Shawn Douthwright, assistant to Ross Wetmore, pleads not guilty to assaulting Scott McLaughlan

Shawn Douthwright leaves the Moncton courthouse on Friday after pleading not guilty to assault. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Shawn Douthwright, the executive assistant to cabinet minister Ross Wetmore, pleaded not guilty Friday to assaulting Scott McLaughlan, a provincial employee.

Appearing in Moncton provincial court, Douthwright told the judge he was pleading not guilty, but the case was adjourned for a month.

Melinda Ponting-Moore, acting as Douthwright's defence lawyer, was discussing a date for trial when the Crown spoke to her quietly.

Ponting-Moore then asked for an adjournment, telling provincial court Judge Luc J. Labonté, "we might have an opportunity to sit down with the Crown."

The judge granted the request, setting aside the matter until Feb. 21.

"If it can be resolved, great," Labonté told the lawyers

Agriculture Minister Ross Wetmore was with Douthwright when the alleged assault occurred, according to union statements. (Philip Drost/CBC News)

Otherwise, he said, the case would proceed to trial.

Outside court, Ponting-Moore said she was acting on behalf of lawyer Kelly Lamrock, who would deal with a trial, should there be one. She said the adjournment would be used to gather more information.

McLaughlan could not be reached for comment.

But through his union, McLaughlan has alleged that Douthwright drove up to a Department of Transportation work site on Route 112 last July 4.

McLaughlan was among the workers gathered at the site when Douthwright and Wetmore, the minister of agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, stopped.

Wetmore "shouted at us, insulted us, using derogatory words and saying road workers were incompetent," McLaughlan is quoted as saying in a union release. He accused Douthwright of shaking him.

Douthwright refused to comment as he left the courthouse Friday. Last week, when reached by the CBC, he replied in an email: "I look forward to telling my story in the proper venue."

The issue of the alleged assault was raised in November in the legislature. Two Liberal MLAs asked for more information about it and suggested Wetmore step down from cabinet while it was being resolved.

Wetmore would only say the matter had been dealt with.

At the time, Premier Blaine Higgs said he couldn't delve into details because of privacy issues but he was aware of an incident. 

"We feel that the disciplinary action was suitable for the situation and that it was done promptly," Higgs said.

But he did not say what disciplinary action was taken.