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How many lawyers does it take to ruin a province?

Editorial: February 2004

Geoff Dufour

I have received in the last few days dozens of lawyer "jokes." I have also received many cryptic observations about lawyers -- from the Bible, from Shakespeare and from individuals who have been so damaged by lawyers that they have lost their sense of humour. As I recall, during the days when sex was a forbidden topic in polite company, double entendre and limericks were everywhere. What could not be spoken of directly was referred to obliquely.

I think we are going through these kinds of days right now regarding lawyers.

But there is a difference. The consequence of speaking openly about sex and other taboo topics was minimal: there was a ripple of shock and then embarrassment passed. now many topics are discussed openly, without shame and human discourse is richer. The discussions are informative and specific. Not so when we speak of lawyers. Many who have had their bank accounts cleared and their mortgages foreclosed are a bit like wives whose husbands beat them -- they explain their impoverished status as "having fallen on hard times" but still speak of "my lawyer." The woman with the blackened eye still speaks of "my husband." Like they are lucky to have them.

There is no justice where lawyers are concerned. They will sue you at the drop of their name. They have done so to many people and others who have seen what they can do are fearful. I could have easily filled this website with the lawyer stories I have been told in the last five years -- except the people who told them to me are afraid to come forward. They don't want their other eye blackened.

Today's revelation that Jane Lancaster betrayed Ron Sterling and his legal aid lawyer, Don Mullord, is surely the tip of a very large iceberg. The justice system in Saskatchewan is bankrupt, both morally and financially. That system is composed mostly of lawyers, on both sides of the bar and former lawyers on the bench. A sound system does not go bankrupt unless it is run by dishonest people. Those who lay claim to some kind of honesty but remain silent as their colleagues rob the moral till are no better than the thieves they watch.

Consider this: Terry Hinz remained silent about his suspicion that the Klassen/Kvello/Ross/Ross/White prosecutions were flawed. He had those suspicions in 1991 and remained silent until 2003. When he told the truth, we all applauded. But if you think about it, his honest act was only laudable because it stood in such stark contrast to the dishonesty which he had stepped out of. We are so deperate for justice in this province that one honest act on the part of one lawyer is enough to render him a hero.

I know, I know. We put things into a larger context, a longer timeline, the climate of the day. Blah, blah, blah. The context and the timeline and the climate is this: We have been suffering with a bitter cold justice system for a very long time. What happened in 1991 was not "isolated" nor was it new. The green lawyers who peopled our courtrooms at the time of David Milgaard have now climbed to the positions of power. Many took their shady ethics with them when they moved from the bar to the bench.

In keeping with the battered wife analogy: I readily agree that not all men beat their wives. But the men who do beat their wives are now faced with a society less likely to look the other way. Gentle men and women intervened. A battered wife now has some place to go.

Time is overdue for honest people in the justice system to step forward. They have examples, now. Terry Hinz, slow to move as he was, ultimately did the right thing. True, he had already received his golden handshake. But surely his action must have stirred some discussion among those he left behind. There must have been some who knew he did right. Were they afraid to speak up in his defence as they listened to their colleagues cut him down? Afraid to stand up for what they knew was right?

It would be comforting to think that Parker and Scott, the prosecutors who took part in the ruination of the Vopni family in 2001, were quaking in their boots, fearing their malice would be exposed. They likely are not. They have modelled their careers on those of Miazga and Hansen, Bauer and Sullivan.

Lawyer Hugh Harradence

Many of us who watched the Martensville trials knew something was not on the up and up. Was it just an accident that Travis Sterling's legal aid lawyer, Hugh Harradence, left one bit of manufactured evidence uncontested so that the judge and jury find him guilty and the crown could get convictions on one person? Not bloody likely.

In June, 2002, when John Popowich accepted his out-of-court settlement, what was the bargain he struck? Why did he apologize to the prosecutors? Why did he say there was no need for further probing -- no need for a public inquiry?

It is good to see that Geoff Dufour has learned the value of publicity. A bit of this kind of publicity could have settled matters for the Sterlings and the others wrongfully accused in Martensville many year ago.

The lawyers set the time table and the lawyers call the shots.

That is, until Richard Klassen represented himself -- and won.

The "rift" which was reported in the media earlier this week is not among the Klassen family members but between Richard Klassen and the Borden/Holgate law firm. Neither Ed Holgate or Robert Borden did any significant work to bring the lawsuit which was filed in January, 1993, to trial. Holgate, in fact, provided ineffective representation: Social Services successfully got itself dropped from the file as did several other defendants. Holgate was always pessimistic about the claim's chances of success.

Holgate was scornful of our efforts to break the story that government officials and officer Brian Dueck had deliberately kept the three Ross children together, putting the twin girls in harm's way for 43 months as their older brother sexually terrorized them, and that they did this to keep the stories straight. There was a wealth of material which Holgate had access to which backed up our claims. When we were arrested for defaming Dueck, Holgate was not supportive.

Through this website and many hours spent carefully telling the story to many reporters, this story broke nationally on The Fifth Estate in 2000. Robert Borden appeared on that show and told how he had been threatened by the law society. Shortly after the show aired, Borden teamed up with Holgate on the civil claim. Richard Klassen was in Manitoba, having retreated from Harris Saskatchewan where his family was under constant bombardment.

Richard and his family, along with Angela Geworsky, came back to Saskatchewan in August, 2001. After Richard Klassen took over his own representation in the claim, he did all the work that should have been done several years earlier: Richard Klassen ordered the documents (which Holgate had "looked at," determined there was "nothing there" and declined the government's offer to provide copies for 10 cents a page). Richard Klassen organized the examinations for discovery (which Holgate had said were "unnecessary"). Richard Klassen prepared the pretrial brief (on which the entire trial was based. Richard Klassen made sure all the witnesses were subpoened and arranged for them to be available. He arranged with the court registrar to use the large court room, provided the a/v equipment for showing the tapes and arranged for the media to have a sound board so they could accurately report the proceedings. He arranged for Angela Geworsky to be recognized as a legitimate legal assistant (recognition she was not granted at the pretrial) and seated beside him to speed the finding of documents. He made sure that everything was ready.

So ready, in fact, that Robert Borden went out and bought himself a brand new SUV in anticipation of the victory. Richard, meanwhile, was driving an old car which his father-in-law's mechanical skills kept on the road.

Up until the day of the trial, Richard Klassen nurtured this case like a mama lion. He paced. He fretted. He was on the phone. He worked on alternative methods for getting in the evidence he needed to tender. He practiced cross-examination with all of us. We consumed many gallons of coffee. We knew that Judge George Baynton had been assigned: we wondered about him. We had been told he was a strict judge who wanted all "i"'s dotted and "t"'s crossed. We hoped he would be fair. We had back-up plans in case he wasn't. All the cubs were in one lair, mature and ready to run off in any direction or all.

What a relief we all felt when Judge Baynton stepped into the court room and gave his instructions to the media and outlined his expectations for the trial. What a relief when he treated Richard Klassen respectfully and allowed him to present his case without interruption.

Ed Holgate attempted to examine one witness and it became clear he didn't know the case. Borden interrupted the flow of the trial by calling his witnesses -- who lived in the city -- and pre-empting witnesses Richard Klassen had arranged to come from out of town.

The lawyers were still trying to call the shots.

In the end, Judge Baynton based his findings almost entirely on the evidence presented by Richard Klassen -- and the evidence elicited from the other side through Richard Klassen's cross examination.

The StarPhoenix carried a helf-page picture of Klassen and Borden above the banner "Abuse saga ends: we won, we won, we won!"

One stage of the abuse saga did, indeed, end that day. What we have had since then has been the continual battering of Richard Klassen by the lawyers who claim to be working with him. --Sheila Steele, Feb. 10, 2004

Richard Klassen and lawyer Borden

Feb. 10, 2004: As noted on the John Gormley show this morning, 41 days passed between the judgment and yesterday's much-hyped apology. On John Gormley Live, Borden stated he was working together with Richard Klassen. Klassen, who had spoken earlier with Sheila Cole on CBC radio, clarified the intent of his meeting with Justice Minister Frank Quennell. While we would never diminish the importance of an apology, that was not what Richard Klassen wanted to talk about with the minister. That Quennell's first move upon meeting with Richard Klassen was to offer his hand and a sincere apology speaks well for his manners. Klassen graciously accepted the apology. Borden's crashing the meeting with damaged clients in tow was not good manners.

Lawyer continues to treat people's lives as a cruel game: monopoly?

Kari Klassen

Kari Klassen answers reporters' questions as she leaves Community Resources and Employment Minister Joanne Brofford's office after Compensation meeting Monday morning.

Richard Klassen met with Justice Minister Frank Quennell at 9 this morning. The meeting lasted 35 minutes and Richard told me that Quennell listened seriously to a proposal he had prepared which would allow the government to proceed to the Supreme Court with its appeal while getting the plaintiffs out of the process. Mr. Quennell took down the figures Klassen proposed (based on the out-of-court settlement the government had made on John Popowich) and promised to take them back to the office and crunch the numbers. Mr. Quennell apologized to Richard Klassen. Klassen told him that he appreciated Quennell's apology; however, the apology he wanted was from Matt Miazga and Sonia Hansen, the prosecutors who were directly involved in pressing forward with the prosecutions between 1991 and 1993.

Klassen took with him into the meeting his assistant, Angela Geworsky and his brother Dale Klassen from Red Deer. (Dale and Anita Klassen were the original foster parents of the Ross children). Quennell had an assistant and another government official present with him.

Richard told me in a telephone conversation that the meeting was productive and civilized. Richard did not pull any punches as far as letting the minister know that he was acting on his own behalf and in the interests of all the other plaintiffs. He further indicated to Quennell that Borden and Holgate, the lawyers on the file, had not been helpful.

Let us all be perfectly clear. This meeting was arranged by Richard Klassen with the minister for the purpose of allowing Richard Klassen an opportunity to speak directly with the minister and to offer a constructive proposal. He had spent the week-end working out his proposal.

Borden certainly was not helpful today. He tried to turn it into a media circus about getting an apology from the minister. Since the minister had already apologized in public, several times, and everyone knows he was not part of the government when Miazga and Hansen maliciously prosecuted the Klassens, Borden's focus on the importance of a person-to-person apology from the minister was a cheap deflection of the serious purpose of the meeting.

When Richard, Ang and Dale left the office, who should be waiting outside the door speaking with the media but Robert Borden with two of the plaintiffs, Pam Shetterly (Richard and Dale's sister) and Diane Kvello. Borden took Shetterly and Kvello into see the minister and emerged five minutes later, telling the media that he had accepted the minister's apology on behalf of all of his clients.

The media picked up that there was a rift among the clients and the initial spin has been that Richard refused to accept Quennell's apology. This is not accurate. Richard accepted the minister's apology as far as it went, but he has always been after a meaningful remedy which would be full accountability from the prosecutors who were found to have maliciously prosecuted him. The rift among the plaintiffs has been driven by the lawyers.

Under Borden's direction, Shetterly spoke to the cameras and with characteristic emotion indicated she was overwhelmed by the sincerity of Quennell's apology which she had not believed would ever come.

Just last week, the Ontario government appointed prosecutor Susan MacLean, who went after Guy Paul Morin, a judge. Apparently she had shown some remorse during the subsequent inquiry into Morin's wrongful conviction and lengthy imprisonment. In Saskatchewan, we are very concerned that Miazga and Hansen might be waiting in the wings for a similar kind of reward, even as we call for their punishment.

Richard Klassen

Even more disheartening is that Borden and Holgate may be awaiting some kind of reward for their efforts in placing obstacles in Richard Klassen's path as he got this case before the courts.

From the beginning of this fight, our primary focus has been to make those who caused the damage personally accountable for what they have done. Settlement has always been secondary.

Holgate, Borden, Miazga and Hansen are all in a pickle, to use one of Borden's favorite phrases. Any way they cut this pickle, Richard Klassen is in a position to bargain and nothing can move forward without him.

Holgate already participated with Geoff Dufour in an outrageous attempt by Dueck's lawyer, Dave Gerrand, to have Richard Klassen thrown out of the lawsuit in June, 2002. Gerrand had hired a private investigator to entrap Klassen and police to videotape him allegedly giving the public information gained through discovery. At that time, pre-trial management judge Mona Dovell rejected their motion. (Reports of pe-trial litigational activity are interesting to look back on, 18 months later).

Holgate and Borden have been playing dumb-lawyer smart-lawyer with us ever since they joined forces as a law firm. The joining of forces enabled Borden to get in on the civil claim which Holgate had filed. Richard Klassen has been a thorn in their sides of which they have been as eager to rid themselves as have the lawyers for the defendants.

The trouble with lawyers is that they stick together, morphing into unprincipled alliances, sliding out of slippery situations and always collecting their $200 when they pass "go."

Holgate and Borden are not all that different from any other lawyers in Saskatoon -- they are the ones with whom we have had some direct experience.

For instance, there are the famous frozen chicken papers -- documents from Greg Walen who was then acting on behalf of Dueck -- which Holgate hid in his freezer, claiming later that he had taken to heart Walen's accompanying letter and needed to keep the documents safe from criminal photocopiers who might put his law ticket in jeopardy.

Richard Klassen and lawyer Borden

For several years, we posted on this website that Dueck had not provided disclosure to the plaintiffs. When Holgate finally went to make some chicken soup, and discovered the freezer-burned papers, he told Richard Klassen that he had not withheld the information from his client; rather Richard had been too busy with the website to look at them. (Holgate got the papers in 1995 and we did not launch the website until 1998).

Last Monday, Feb. 2, when plaintiffs and counsel met with the deputy minister and McKillop, Holgate remained behind to chat with McKillop while Richard Klassen and Borden met the media. Meanwhile, Kari Klassen was in Regina, finessing the meeting with the minister, which Richard Klassen attended this morning. This meeting was not arranged by Borden and he was not included in the arrangements. Over the week-end, Richard Klassen made it very clear to Borden that this was his meeting. Borden told Klassen last night that he had consulted another legal firm to get advice about what to do with Klassen.

What to do with Klassen. He is not an "unruly client" which is the standard excuse a lawyer has for getting rid of someone. He is not anybody's client. He has represented himself since November, 2001, and according to the pre-trial judge and the trial judge, he has also represented the cause of justice.

Now he has come to represent us all. All of us who have been maliciously prosecuted, all of us who have paid money to lawyers only to have them sell us out; all of us who always felt in our heart of hearts, mind of minds, that justice could be accessed without going through a crooked bar.

They are a bad lot, Saskatchewan lawyers. I will happily eat my words if anyone will provide me with solid evidence that I am wrong--Sheila Steele, Feb. 9, 2004