The document I’ve posted here was generated by the Town of Hudson. It appears to be a spreadsheet of legal expenses incurred up until January 31, 2016, a total of $218,201.08 for approximately 18 months.
According to this, the town’s legal expenses fall into four main categories:
– grievance mediation and/or litigation with residents, former employees and subcontractors (Pine Lakers, ex-DG Catherine Haulard, former treasurer Sylvain Bernard, former technical services director Trail Grubert, former labor-relations advisor Judy Sheehan, former town auditors Bourassa Boyer);
– legal advice on governance and policy issues (Montreal Metropolitan Community, Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC, etc.);
– representation at numerous criminal and civil proceedings (Louise Villandré’s trial on criminal charges, complaints from or regarding citizens, Quebec Municipal Commission hearings into alleged irregularies committed by elected officials);
– actions threatened and/or initiated as the result of alleged libels, defamations and assorted insults.
The first two categories are unavoidable in any municipality, but to this extent? According to this spreadsheet, proceedings against Haulard alone account for $100,000. An ethical lawyer will advise the client to consider the cost of litigation versus the cost of reaching a settlement. Judges usually advise mediation in civil actions because they have a front-row seat on unreasonable plaintiffs, fee-grubbing lawyers, obstructionist defendents and jammed dockets. The worst-case hypothesis is a plaintiff with bottomless pockets. In Hudson’s case, one gets the impression this administration is prepared to push everything to the limit in the knowledge Hudson’s taxpayers will always pay the bill.
It’s the third and fourth categories that should concern us. In April 2015, District 1 councillor Rob Spencer filed a complaint with the municipal affairs ministry in regards to certain actions taken by a member of this administration. Municipal affairs, after analyzing the complaint, referred it to the Quebec Municipal Commission (CMQ). A hearing is imminent. Spencer says he’ll comment once the allegations are public.
In July, Spencer made a complaint to Quebec’s lobbying commissioner, the body which ensures people lobbying on behalf of business interests are duly registered. Again, details have not been made public and Spencer is declining comment.
Spencer continues to sit on council but has made it clear he will not take part in closed-door meetings with the mayor unless the proceedings are recorded. He confirms he has received three lawsuit threats, the latest Nov. 24. Spencer’s name doesn’t appear on this spreadsheet, but if you look closely you’ll see some information has been whited out. This suggests to me the administration doesn’t want taxpayers to know the true cost of the town’s defence in the CMQ hearings.
You’ll also find a short list of names of residents whose crime appears to have been to question this administration’s actions in social media. None of those named complain of having received a lawyer’s letter or other communication so I presume the putative plaintiffs are banking on libel chill to silence dissent. Is this what passes for public discussion in Hudson? More to the point, the use of libel threats to silence dissent is on soft legal ground in Quebec as the result of the case of a Grenville dump owner’s efforts to silence opposition.
I have expressed concern this administration has juggled the 2016 budget to create a contingency fund that would allow them to write endless cheques to lawyers for whatever ill-advised legal adventure they decide to launch. Believe me when I say the people will be watching closely.