The Ontario Court of Appeals has overturned a decision that ordered a lawyer to personally pay $72,000 of the cost of court proceedings between Russell Township and his two clients.
Instead, Russell Township will now be on the hook for $25,000 of lawyer Kenneth Bickley’s legal costs incurred to have the ruling overturned.
In Sept. 2011, Ontario senior judge Monique Métivier ordered Bickley to pay 40 per cent of the $180,000 cost of court proceedings between Russell Township and his clients Howard Galganov and Jean-Serge Brisson.
The two men had argued that a township bylaw requiring both official languages on commercial signs violated their right to freedom of expression.
Métivier dismissed their claim, finding that the bylaw did not violate their rights and was a proper exercise of power to advance linguistic equality in Russell.
Following that decision, lawyers for Russell Township alleged that Bickley’s conduct during the court proceedings was “often highly inappropriate, incompetent and the cause of unnecessary costs.” As evidence, they cited a debate about whether the township’s mayor should have been called as a witness. They also claimed that Bickley presented his arguments in a disorganized matter. As a result, they asked that the cost of the trial be borne by Bickley personally.
Métivier found that the factors cited by the township’s lawyers amounted to negligence, and ordered Bickley to pay for part of the trial.
But the Court of Appeal judge found Métivier erred, noting that she failed to separate the lawyer’s conduct from that of his clients.
The appeal judge also levied an additional $60,000 against Galganov and Brisson, bringing their total legal costs up to $240,000. Bickley’s lawyer Al O’Brien suggested the real motive behind the township’s move to seek costs against his client was fear that Galganov and Brisson might not be able to pay.
Russell Township now has 60 days to seek leave to appeal the new decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Township lawyer Marc Sauvé said he has not received any instruction to appeal or to further legally pursue Galganov and Brisson to recover the costs of the court proceedings.
“There are a large number of legal measures prescribed under civil procedure that should allow the township to recover the cost of the proceedings,” said Sauvé.
O’Brien said Bickley was unable to comment on the appeal decision as he is still bound by solicitor-client privilege.
— With files from Andrew Seymour