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Tom Engel

Wins defamation suit against Edmonton Police Association

Tom Engel

Criminal lawyer Tom Engel was awarded $50k after a judge agreed an inflammatory article by Bill Newton defamed him.

The association and Newton - a retired member of the Edmonton Police Service who was working on contract at the time for the Edmonton Police Association - have been ordered to pay Engel $50k in damages, plus court costs. The article was published on the EPA's website in September 2008.

"I find the general tenor, plain meaning, and specific comments of the article to be defamatory" Justice Avril Inglis wrote. "The article was clearly directed at Mr. Engel primarily and repeatedly defamed him professionally." ... "Further, the circumstances and source of the publication increase the defamatory effects. Any ordinary, right-thinking member of society would objectively find that Mr. Engel is impotent, unskilled, and ineffective as a lawyer."

Engel said Newton's article questioned his competence and accused him of being dishonest and of having a personal vendetta against police.

"It distressed me to think that police officers would be buying this sort of nonsense" Engel said. "For a lawyer, reputation is everything."

"I don't hate cops. I have friends who are cops. I have cops who are clients. I just want them to be good cops. That's all."

Engel said he had tried to find other ways to resolve the issue but after two years with little result he felt he had no choice but to seek a resolution in court.

"Newton was called by the defense and he basically admitted that I was a competent lawyer and he respected me" said Engel. "Which was kind of weird, given that the article was claiming that I was extremely incompetent."

"I didn't get an apology but I got an acknowledgment from him, under oath, that basically none of the things he was saying about me were true."

"I hope the union will have learned its lesson that these sorts of tactics, where they seek to discredit their critics and they do so unlawfully, are not going to work and they should expect that if they try it again they will be sued and there will be consequences."

At the time the article was written, having a positive professional working relationship with the EPA was "basically not possible" he said.

"The (Criminal Trial Lawyers Association) and myself personally, we're not their enemies. We're just trying to reach a common goal, which is to have the best criminal justice system we can have, and obviously a key component of that is the police service."

Legal critic targeted by police, hearing told

Defence lawyer Tom Engel subject of 20 police complaints

EDMONTON - The Edmonton Police Service has filed 20 law-society complaints in less than four years against high-profile criminal defence lawyer and outspoken police critic Tom Engel.

The complaints are part of a broader push by police to harass Engel, the media and even the police commission to stifle criticism, Engel's own lawyer told a panel Friday at the Alberta Law Society.

Hersh Wolch termed the complaints against Engel frivolous, saying the law society has summarily dismissed 18 of them.

The latest two complaints are over Engel's failure to attend a hearing of the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board after the hearing's time was changed.

"The tactics of the EPS are at least questionable and perhaps, more importantly, conspiratorial ... ," Wolch said in a written submission to a panel of the law society. "It is respectfully submitted that the chain of events outlined demonstrates misconduct on the part of the EPS, and the law society should not be a party to their misbehaviour.

"These complaints amount to an abuse of process and the proceedings should be discontinued."

The panel dismissed Wolch's application to discontinue proceedings against Engel on the two citations, which means the case will proceed to a hearing. Without giving reasons, the panel rejected Wolch's contention that the citations are so weak the law society has no reasonable prospect of gaining a conviction.

It has yet to set a date for the hearing.

The two citations stem from complaints by Kim Armstrong, the head of the police service's legal department, and Sgt. Greg Preston, a police officer and lawyer in the same department.

Reached Friday, Armstrong said there was no conspiracy.

"I don't know of, nor have I been a participant in, any conspiracy to silence anyone," she said, adding that, "if there was such a conspiracy, then I look forward to seeing the evidence of that."

Armstrong said she made the complaint out of her duty as a lawyer who had observed "conduct of another lawyer first hand that caused me concern as a professional."

Wolch provided the panel with newspaper articles in which, he said, the police make it plain they don't like Tom Engel because he criticizes them publicly and he vigorously pursues complaints against officers, on behalf of clients.

"The media articles illustrate the methods used by the EPS to stifle and muzzle those who they do not like, be they reporters, lawyers or police commission officials," Wolch said in his written submission. "This latest law society complaint is a perfect illustration of the abusive police practices described."

The first citation Engel faces is that he failed to respond to the LERB; the second is that he failed to be candid with the law society. A third citation was dismissed after law society counsel Janet Dixon told the panel she doubts there was a reasonable chance of a conviction.

They stem from Engel's failure to appear before a 2003 LERB hearing. Wolch told the panel the board changed the time of the hearing but one of Engel's staff neglected to update his diary. Wolch said if an administrative mistake is grounds for a law society complaint, there will be a flood of such complaints. He cited a recent case where a judge missed a court date because he had the time wrong.

When Engel learned of the LERB hearing, he rushed over to it and asserted he was prepared to proceed, Wolch said. The second citation stems from his statement. The complainant contends Engel could not have been prepared.

Wolch said Engel is the most experienced defence lawyer in the province in handling LERB cases and the case in question was simple and straightforward.

"There have been 20 complaints ... and these (two) are the best they can muster?" Wolch said. He added that the LERB, the party affected by Engel's alleged misconduct, did not complain.

"It is obvious and clear that this is only being done to harass and embarrass (Engel)," Wolch said. "There is no holding back the aggressiveness of the Edmonton police force."

'Shooting the messenger'
Law society to hear complaints against Tom Engel

The Law Society of Alberta rejected a bid to have police complaints against Tom Engel dismissed yesterday, setting the stage for a disciplinary hearing against the Edmonton defence lawyer. The tribunal ruled against a motion to dismiss two out of three complaints brought against Engel lodged by members of the Edmonton city police.

"There is at least a reasonable prospect of conviction," said tribunal head Jim Peacock.

Nor was there new information suggesting the law society committee erred in recommending a hearing be held. A hearing date has yet to be set.

Engel's lawyer Hersh Wolch argued the complaints were trivial and part of a plan by members of the Edmonton Police Service to harass his client.

Over the course of the last several years, Engel has brought forward a series of high-profile cases against the police involving assaults by officers or allegations of corruption.

"They are shooting the messenger," Wolch told the tribunal. As many as 20 other complaints from members of the force have already been dismissed by the law society, he said.

"It's become obviously clear it's only being done to harass and embarrass (Engel). You are being used for that purpose."

Three complaints were before the tribunal. Both Wolch and Law Society counsel Janet Dixon argued one should be dismissed, and it was.

The two remaining complaints, filed by Kim Armstrong, manager of police legal services, and police lawyer Sgt. Greg Preston, will proceed.

"The committee is not saying they have merit, but if believed, that the spin that they want to put on it is correct, it should go ahead," Wolch said afterward.

"So that's two out of 20. Our position is that the law society is being abused."

Armstrong told the Sun Wolch's comments are offensive.

"I did what I deemed to be my ethical duty, which is to advise the law society, my profession regulatory body, of concerns," she said.

"I take great exception to the suggestion that I would ever make a frivolous or vexatious complaint against anyone."

Armstrong said she's "distinctly not" aware of any organized effort to silence critics of the police.

Filing a frivolous complaint would violate his code of ethics, said Preston.

"A complaint is made. It's felt that the conduct is contrary to the code. I have never ever filed a complaint, and I've only had the two that I've written in on personally," he said.

"There's no agenda here in trying to silence anybody."

Society weighs cop complaints

The Criminal Trial Lawyers Association is carefully monitoring a motion before the Law Society of Alberta today to dismiss police complaints against Edmonton defence lawyer Tom Engel. They are just a few among many complaints already dismissed by the society, according to Engel's lawyer.

Rod Gregory, president of the CTLA, said he'll be there out of concern for other defence lawyers in Edmonton.

"I'm there to monitor whether or not, depending on how the application goes, whether there's anything to the argument that the complaints are being used to silence critics," Gregory said.

"If it's an abuse, and the law society deems it an abusive complaint, then is the complaint process being used to silence a critic?"

Over the course of the last several years, Engel has brought forward a series of high-profile cases against the police involving assaults by officers or allegations of corruption.

Ten similar complaints, all of which Engel's lawyer Hersh Wolch described as frivolous, have already been dismissed by the law society. Two more remain outstanding.

Today, Wolch will be at the hearing looking to have three complaints tossed out on those grounds.

Wolch said yesterday one complaint involves a misunderstanding about the date of a hearing.

"Some of the other ones were where people have made complaints of brutality against the police, and somehow Tom brought them against the police and didn't succeed," Wolch said. "They're all police-related, put it that way.

"The most charitable interpretation is that they are of a minor nature. When you look at the overall picture, it's just plain harassment."

Engel said he wouldn't be commenting until every complaint against him has been sorted out.

"I'd like to tell you, but the law society puts restraints on what lawyers can say when they are going before the board," Engel said Wednesday.

"I can say all the complaints were made by the Edmonton Police Service."

Edmonton Police Service spokesman Andy Weiler confirmed two of the complaints were processed by the force's legal services department.