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Don’t hire lawyer for lawsuit, says Collard

The Ridgeway Herald special web release from April 29, 2011 edition

Councillor Paul Collard started another furball about lawyers April 26 when he tried to forward a motion that the Town of Fort Erie not hire an outside lawyer to defend the lawsuit aimed at stopping the Bay Beach condominium project with the Molinaro Group.

“I’m hoping it’s the will of council that we expend no further funds to defend this statement of claim,” he said as he introduced his motion.

“I know we’ve talked about this ad nauseum.”

Not only did Collard propose that the defence be handled solely by the Town’s in-house solicitor, but “that council refuse to authorize counsel for the Molinaro Group to represent the Town of Fort Erie in the litigation.”

Mayor Doug Martin said the subject should be treated as a notice of motion and dealt with tonight (May 9).

Discussion would involve a closed session and advance notice must be given before that could take place, he said, sparking more than 30 minutes of bitter quarrelling.

Toward the end of it, Collard said, “We’re not saying we’re not going to defend this. It’s a question of how we defend it. We’re asking for our own solicitor to handle this internally in order to save some money.”

Councillor Stephen Passero disagreed.

“This is not about cost savings. This is about trying to weaken a defence,” he said. “And if any councillor who forgets what that means . . . go home tonight and re-read Mr. Mascarin’s report.”

He said councillors have to approach issues from a different perspective from their personal opinions and biases.

“If it’s your personal intention to frustrate and stop this project and do things like try to shut down our legal defences, then you’ve got to get out of the chair up here where you represent 30,000 residents and go on to the side of people who want this project stopped.”

Town solicitor Heather Salter said she has already retained a lawyer to prepare a defence to the claim, and Councillor John Hill was indignant about it.

“Perhaps we could have some estimation of costs for this outside legal counsel that we have now secured without council’s knowledge,” he said.

Salter said she is authorized by a 2009 bylaw to retain a lawyer for any claim up to $25,000, and that costs are incremental as litigation proceeds through various phases, but the costs are not calculable because it depends on how many hours the Town will get billed.

Councillor Bob Steckley said he finds it “interesting that when things change, the discussion changes.”

He pointed out that some councillors were opposed to hiring outside help to review the agreement because it was not a budgeted item.

“Tonight the solicitor can’t give us an estimate yet we’re moving ahead,” he said. “We don’t know the amount” or where it’s coming from.

Councillor Rick Shular said “it’s ludicrous . . . to pull this boneheaded thing.”

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