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The Gerald Morris story

How lawyers in Saskatchewan maintain their corruption from the bottom to the top

Gerald Morris

As we have found throughout the last several years we have been watching the Justice System in Saskatchewan, lawyers here are corrupt. Some are simply incompetent and a lot of them are fearful.

Complaints to the Law Society can be devastating to the career of a lawyer. inJusticebusters experience with the Law Society six years ago is amusing and frustrating: we complained to them about a Rosetown lawyer who refused to accept simple service of a notice of motion amd were in turn threatened with prosecution for practising law without a licence. That experience prompted us to come up with the slogan on our logo -- that we practice justice without a licence.

Robert Borden, who went public with his concerns about the laying of charges of sexual abuse in an uninvestigated case against against his clients was subjected to a series of complaints which chilled his effectiveness for many years. We have watched as mediocre defence lawyers and unethical prosecutors have got their QCs and moved to the bench. An example is Calvin Tallis who started out as David Milgaard's legal aid defence lawyer and quit the case to take a promotion, giving no assistance to the lawyer taking over this notorious murder case. Tallis now sits on our Appeals court.

Prosecutor Wilfred Tucker moved to the bench while prosecuting Johanna and John Lucas for criminal defamation (the Lucases were convicted and did time even though almost everything they [Lucases] alleged was true.) Tim White gave a tepid defence to Martensville young person TS. (She lost the case and was later acquitted at appeal.)

The Gerald Morris case is an anatomy of this kind of corruption, tracing the careers of several prominent Saskatchewan careers from their corrupt roots to their powerful positions today.


In 1991, The Fifth Estate covered the Gerald Morris story. Eric Malling was the reporter. It was conducted in hard-hitting Malling style and the story, roughly, was this: Two lawyers from a Swift Current law firm had approached Morris, who was then manager of the Credit Union in Cabri, Saskatchewan. Morris had been helping clients complete the legal work for their mortgages.

Geoff WilsonThe lawyers who came to call on Gerald Morris that day, Geoff Wilson (left) and Gene Maurice warned Morris that he could be charged with practicing law without a licence if he continued this helping prepare mortgage documents. They suggested that he instead send the clients to their firm and they would pay him a percentage of the work which they gained in this way.

Gerald Morris told Malling that he knew of at least two other Credit Union managers who had entered into the same arrangement with the same law firm and that he understood it was common practice.

Morris has told inJusticebusters "Regardless what Pete Peltier stated on the tape-doing mortgages was not part of my job description.We used to do them, and I would assess a small fee and charge it to the member in addition to the Land Title fee. C.U. central had been telling all C.U.'s to use a law firm, and if there was an undetected error-the law firm would be responsible.

"We had been using the law firm of Anderson et al until I had to do a repossession and found out they were representing both sides!! When I discussed it with the Board, they decided to go with Wilson, MacBean, Maurice, et al, and I believe there was a motion for this. However Mr. Peltier's brother Jim was articling in the Anderson firm.

"The Board discussed the fees I was charging, and felt we should not assess any fee for mortgages we did (it was agreed we would do any up to $10,000.00 and others would go to the law firm.

"This is when I told them what the (Swift Current) lawyers hade offered me. One Board member said he didn't see any difference if they paid me for my work because it was coming out of the lawyers' fee and didn't cost the member any extra. Based on this verbal consultation, I continued (and that is where I erred.)

"Managers at Hazlet and Lancer were on the same agreement as me."

Gene Maurice

Gerald Morris also said he believed he was doing nothing wrong. While The Fifth Estate show makes it appear that he was underhanded, the whole story makes Morris's actions understandable.

Morris carried on with the quid pro quo and for the next few years he sent 95 per cent of the Cabri Credit Union morgage business to the law firm. In return he received checques, sent in envelopes marked "private and confidential." These were signed by Maurice, Wilson, or by another lawyer named Frank McBean. The happy arrangement went on for some years. The cheques were in small amounts ($40 to $200), sent in batches. This would seem to be an odd accounting practice for a firm which believed it was within the law.

Then a clerk in the Credit Union opened one of the envelopes by mistake. The cheques fell out. She brought this to the attention of the Board of Directors of the Credit union. Pete Peltier, president of the Credit Union at the time did not think it was right, according to his statement to Eric Malling. It is far more likely that he did know, that Morris had consulted with him as he claims to have done. But Morris was being hung out to dry.

Now this story would be neat and tidy if everybody concerned went to jail. It is against the law for lawyers to solicit business in this way (it is considered advertising and giving them an unfair advantage over local lawyers) and it is certainly illegal for someone to do what Morris did: accept "kickbacks."

Only Gerald Morris went to jail. He was charged, found guilty of accepting around $15,000 in kickbacks and fined $3000. He appealed, believing it to be unfair that he was the only one charged. He lost his job and his reputation. The lawyers, on the other hand, did very well. They were not charged. In fact:

Frank MacBean became head of the Law Society and then served on various presigious legal committees. He retired, a wealthy man, in 2000.

Gene Maurice

Gene Maurice went on to become a Queen's Bench judge.

Geoff Wilson was elected to parliament as a Progressive Conservative from Swift Current.

Jack Hagemeister, also part of the law firm at the time of the kickbacks became a provincial prosecutor.

In correspondence with inJusticebusters, Gerald Morris continues, " The [fifth estate] tape also said I deposited all the cheques in Regina. I did cash a few at Cabri Credit Union, but the rest were deposited at CIBC in Swift Current -- our son was working there and he got extra points for new customers!. Once he was transferred out, I transferred the account to Pioneer Credit Union, as they were online and I could get cash from an ATM in Regina if I was in there for a meeting or something, and ran short of cash. I didn't want the money in my personal account at the Credit Union, as I did my budgeting with my account and this was extra money, as was my insurance money.

"Looking back -- it seems strange the Board would be concerned if I made a bit of extra money. They weren't reluctant to ask me to cut my holidays short to run the hotel as well as the Credit Union, when the hotel owner passed away suddenly and her paraplegic son did not have any knowledge about the business. Of course, the Credit Union held the mortgage, so it was in our interest to keep it going. Every spare moment was spent running the hotel."


Lawyers not charged

There were several attempts to have the lawyers charged, including a discussion in a legislative committee. Bob Mitchell, then in opposition, conducted the questioning. At the time, he seemed still to have ethics and ideals. Later, as Minister of Justice during the prosecution of Martensville and the Foster Parent case, he shows that he is just another corrupt Saskatchewan lawyer who rose high.

Hansard, May 13 1988, Saskatchewan Legislature

ORAL QUESTIONS

Jailing of Former Credit Union Manager

Bob Mitchell

Mr. Mitchell: - My question is to the Minister of Justice. Mr. Minister, you will be aware that yesterday Gerald Morris was arrested and was taken to jail to serve out a 30-day sentence. He was, of course, the former manager of the Cabri Credit Union who was convicted of unlawfully accepting commissions from a law firm. The two lawyers involved, who are now Mr. Justice Maurice, of the Court of Queen's Bench, and Mr. Geoff Wilson, the Conservative member of parliament from Swift Current, have never been charged with any offence for paying these same commissions, but Mr. Morris, an ordinary citizen, is in jail for receiving those commissions.

Mr. Minister, this leave the people of Saskatchewan wondering about the integrity of our justice system. As a minister, I suggest it's up to you to take steps to restore people's faith in the justice system, and I suggest that you have a further responsibility to provide a satisfactory explanation for

this apparent contradiction. Will you do that?

Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Hon. Mr. Andrew: - Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raises an issue that I think perhaps reflects the attitude of the general public in this particular case. I could advise the hon. member that when this matter first came before me as the Attorney General and the matter was up for decision, one finds himself in the position, as Attorney General, to follow the long-standing tradition of as an elected official, and as the Attorney General, to not to interfere in the decision of the director of public prosecution. That was in fact the recommendation.

I think all attorneys general have followed that practice in this province for a long, long time. I can advise the hon. member that when this matter came before me and the recommendation was not to proceed with charges, I in fact referred that file back to the director of public prosecution, asking that it be reviewed and to determine whether or not in fact it was a proper decision. I did that at that time. The report again came back suggesting that they not proceed with charges. I therefore found myself in a I found myself in a situation, as Attorney General, that you do have to recognize the fact that the director of public prosecutions in this province is the one that makes those decisions, and not me as the Attorney General and as the politician. I pursued that course, a course that I think has been, as I say, followed, and a practice that has been followed by attorneys general in this province for a long period of time. I do say, however, I agree with the hon. members that justice appears in the public, as it sometimes does, not to be full and fair.

Mr. Mitchell: - Supplementary question, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Minister, in the circumstances of this case where two such prominent people are involved, and one indeed being a prominent politician of your party, would it not have been more appropriate to have instructed that the charges be laid and allow the courts to make the very judgement that you made yourself? And can I also ask, as a second question: would it not be appropriate, in your view, in light of the public attitude towards this matter, to give the public an explanation as to how it is that it can be an offence to receive the commissions but not an offence to pay them?

Hon. Mr. Andrew: - I think the hon. member, in raising the issue of should the Attorney General superimpose his views upon the director of public prosecution - the rule is, and the rationale of the rule is, as follows: that if I, as Attorney General, am to interfere in the decision of the director of public prosecution on this issue, do I also interfere on the next issue and the next issue and the next issue? And do you then run the risk of saying that I, as Attorney General, superimposed my political views upon the director of public prosecution.

Ken MacKay

The individual who made the decision in this particular case was Ken MacKay, (left) who was at that point in time the acting attorney general and also the director of public prosecution, a long-standing employee of the Attorney General's department. He was the one that make the decision. I was advised. I checked with other attorneys general across the country. They advised me that this is an area that you should not interfere with. I acted upon that advice, and that is the way this particular case unfolded.

Mr. Mitchell: - It still leaves unanswered, Minister I mean, you're giving us fresh information, but even that will not be sufficient to satisfy a sceptical public that this case was handled properly, particularly in light of the fact that the law society has attempted to proceed against both of these people and did in fact carry through a hearing against one of them. Mr. Minister, in these circumstances, let me renew my question: is it not appropriate for you to provide, either through yourself or the director of public prosecutions, an explanation as to how it can be that it is an offence to receive the commissions but not an offence to pay them?

Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Hon. Mr. Andrew: - Mr. Speaker, again I would not see it appropriate for the Attorney General I have no problem with the director of public prosecution explaining as to why that decision was taken. I'm not sure it's appropriate for the Attorney General, though, to stand up and say: this is a decision taken by the director of public prosecution, and I would then set about to explain how that decision was taken, review the file, etc. I don't think that's appropriate. I have no problem with the director of public prosecution making a statement as to why the decision was taken in that particular regard.

Mr. Mitchell: - A final supplementary, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Minister, can I simply ask you: will you instruct your director of public prosecutions to make this information public and to provide this explanation to the people of Saskatchewan?

Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Hon. Mr. Andrew: - Mr. Speaker, I would be prepared to instruct the director of public prosecution to be as forthcoming with the information as they would in a normal case with regard to where a case is lying. It is not for me to dictate, as you know as a practising lawyer, it is not for me to dictate as to what information the director of public prosecution should make public, and I think that you understand that, and the legal system understands that.

Mr. Mitchell: - We are the lawmakers in the province in this Assembly, and we have a collective responsibility here to ensure the integrity of the system

Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Mitchell: - to ensure that people maintain their respect for the law as an essential element of the functioning of our society. In those circumstances you, as the minister in charge, would have authority to direct your officials, your director of public prosecution, to provide this explanation in a complete and thorough way, not couched in language of as he would in a normal case because this is not a normal case; this is a very serious matter. And I would ask you to make a commitment to us to direct your director of public prosecutions to make a full explanation to the people of the province.

Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Hon. Mr. Andrew: - I've indicated to the hon. member that I would be prepared to request that the director of public prosecutions make a statement with regards to this, and make a statement within the parameters of what is appropriate. And that's not decided by me, it's decided by the director of public prosecutions, what is appropriate in criminal cases of this nature. Now you talk about we as lawmakers.

I think as lawmakers you have to also recognize that what we're dealing with here is a Criminal Code matter which we are not the lawmakers on. The federal government is, or the Parliament of Canada is. So I have no problem with this, only to say this: that sometimes as Attorney General you find yourself in a situation, you find yourself in a situation where the requirement of your office, and to properly perform the job that you are given in that office of Attorney General, requires certain restrictions. And I will live to those restrictions that tradition and the system of justice imposes upon me, and I always must. And I will pursue this case in that traditional way, the way that attorneys general have in the past and, I would suggest, the ways that attorney generals will in the future, to maintain that sense of justice that we have.