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Send bill to law firm for delay: Hughes

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A law firm caused the latest delay of the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry and the provincial government might want to send it the bill for the added costs as a result, the inquiry commissioner said.

Ted Hughes said Tuesday the law firm D'Arcy & Deacon put itself in a conflict of interest by representing social workers involved with Phoenix's case and their employer, the General Authority.

Hughes said he asked commission counsel Sherri Walsh to send a letter notifying the assistant deputy minister of justice about the conflict. "It addresses funding issues going forward and takes a retroactive look at the expenses it has incurred to date."

The letter was sent in case the government believes it's "in the public interest to initiate recovery" and collect on the legal bills run up by the conflict of interest.

Hughes said the conflict could have been avoided. Last May, months before the hearings began, Walsh sent a warning letter to all lawyers. She advised them to "take a long, hard look" at whether they may have conflicts of interest that could later delay the inquiry and run up its tab.

None of the lawyers responded.

In February, a conflict became apparent during testimony at the inquiry.

Kris Saxberg at D'Arcy & Deacon represents many social workers and the General Authority, their boss. Several times, the testimony of workers and supervisors conflicted with those in charge of the General Authority, said Hughes. They were all represented by Saxberg and D'Arcy & Deacon.

Saxberg denied any conflict and said the workers asked to be represented by his firm. Hughes, who may report some workers were guilty of misconduct in their handling of Phoenix's case, said he wasn't satisfied. He asked the Law Society of Manitoba for its opinion. It said Saxberg was in a conflict.

The inquiry was put on hold again last week until the issue was resolved. On Tuesday, Hughes agreed with Saxberg's request to grant the General Authority separate standing, with its own lawyers taking over from him and D'Arcy & Deacon.

That will add to the cost of the probe. The budget is now $6.1 million.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2013 B2

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