OTTAWA -- The inquiry looking at the future of Manitoba judge Lori Douglas cost taxpayers more than $400,000 just in fees for two lawyers before a single day of hearings even took place, Canada's public accounts documents show.
Financial books for the 2011-12 fiscal year show the Canadian commissioner for federal judicial affairs paid $211,459 to the law firm of Guy Pratte, the inquiry's former independent counsel, last fiscal year. Another $191,691 was paid to the law firm of Sheila Block, the lawyer representing Douglas.
Critics of the procedure believe that at this rate, the inquiry will have a price tag in the millions before it reaches a conclusion.
"I wouldn't want to hazard an exact guess but it's going to be in the tens of millions," said Karen Busby, a University of Manitoba law professor.
The money spent so far doesn't include the costs of paying the five-member panel assigned to hear the inquiry, the lawyer representing them, the lawyer representing the complainant, Alexander Chapman, or any of the costs of the Canadian Judicial Council. Nor does it include any of the fees paid to lawyers since last April, including during the two weeks of hearings that were held last summer. Those will be disclosed in public accounts for this year and won't be made public until fall 2013.
The Canadian Judicial Council, the entity that oversees the conduct of federal judges, is looking at whether Douglas should be removed from the bench after a complaint from Chapman, a former client of her husband, lawyer Jack King.
Chapman alleges he was sexually harassed by the couple when he was shown nude photos of Douglas and asked if he would have sex with her. He was paid $25,000 to keep quiet and destroy the photos in a 2003 settlement.
Douglas has denied any wrongdoing and said the photos were shared and the request for sex made without her knowledge. She said she disclosed the situation to the committee vetting her application to be a judge.
She was made a judge in 2005.
The inquiry has been on hold since the end of July after both Pratte and Block filed judicial review applications calling into question whether the five-member inquiry committee was biased after aggressive questioning by the lawyer representing the committee. Block called the questions sexist and insulting and wants the inquiry ended.
Pratte wanted all evidence resulting from questions from the inquiry lawyer to be struck and the lawyer be barred from asking further questions.
Pratte later quit as independent counsel and has been replaced.
In September, Chapman filed his own application for judicial review, questioning whether Pratte could quit without asking the inquiry committee for permission to resign.
The saga is back in court today in Toronto to determine who has to respond to the judicial reviews. Pratte's and Block's motions both call for Canada's attorney general to respond, however, the government will argue against that today.
"Since the minister of justice and attorney general of Canada will ultimately receive the Canadian Judicial Council's recommendations regarding whether Associate Chief Justice Douglas should be removed from office, he must remain separate and apart from the judicial inquiry process," a Department of Justice spokeswoman said in a statement.
Judicial council executive director Norman Sabourin said it will argue against that removal. He said it would be exceptional to have the attorney general not be the respondent in such a situation.
Chapman will argue he should be added as a respondent in the reviews.
Chapman made his complaint to the judicial council in July 2010 and some observers expect the case could drag on for two or three more years before it reaches a conclusion.
Sabourin said he'd like to see it reach a conclusion quickly.
"The longer it takes, it's not in anyone's interest," he said.