The Court of Appeal has upheld Sam Katz’s acquittal of conflict-of-interest charges.
In a ruling released Friday but only made publicly available this morning, the court said there was no evidence that Katz had ordered a December 2010 office Christmas party to be held at a restaurant he owned at the time.
The court’s decision stunned restaurant manager Joe Chan, who filed the appeal and brought the original charge against Katz.
Chan said he’s considering filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.
"They (judges) are just looking for excuses to let (Katz) go," Chan said. "I’m totally disappointed with this decision."
Chan alleged that Katz had violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and should be removed from office.
The charge was originally thrown out in April at Queen’s Bench, when Justice Brenda Keyser said the law didn’t apply to politicians and social gatherings.
The Appeal court disagreed but concluded that Keyser had the discretion to refuse to apply the only penalty – remove Katz from office.
"I consider the matter closed and am focused on addressing City of Winnipeg priorities," Katz said in a statement released late this afternoon.
'Looking for ways to avoid... an election': lawyer
Lawyer David Matas, who represented Chan, said he found the Appeal Court ruling to be contradictory, adding that could be grounds for an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Appeal Court concluded that the conflict law had to be interpreted liberally.
"The Act is public interest legislation which must be given a broad and liberal interpretation in accordance with the modern rule of statutory interpretation," the Appeal court stated. "It is not limited to meetings of council or of committees."
Matas said it appears the Appeal Court judges did not believe the dollar amount of the Christmas meal -- $3,000 – warranted the expense of removing Katz from office and holding a by-election.
"What (the Appeal Court) is saying is ‘the law means this but the judge has the discretion to ignore the law,’ which I don’t think is right," Matas said.
"They’re looking for ways around avoiding calling an election, which are not very persuasive because the legislation just requires it."
In upholding the acquittal, the Court of Appeal said there was no evidence that Katz directed his staff to hold the Christmas party at his restaurant – only that it was a decision made by his office manager.
Chan said he doesn’t understand how the Appeal Court judges concluded there was no evidence that Katz was not involved in staging the dinner at his restaurant.
"What more evidence do they need – it’s his restaurant," Chan said, adding Katz had meals at the restaurant at other times as well.