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Pickton lawyer threatens to pull out of case

Peter Ritchie gives the government a week to offer money to pay for defence team

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Unless the B.C. government quickly agrees to fund lawyers for accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton, the Port Coquitlam pig farmer could be representing himself at next month's preliminary hearing.

Pickton's lawyer Peter Ritchie said Friday that he will withdraw from the case in a week if the attorney-general's ministry has not offered money to pay for a defence team.

Ritchie said his client, who jointly owns land valued in the millions of dollars, is broke and needs assistance to cover the cost of his defence on 15 counts of murdering women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"I think it has reached the crunch point," Ritchie said. "The problem is that negotiations are getting nowhere with the government."

Ritchie said that even though he went public on Pickton's financial troubles Wednesday, he has not heard a word from the government negotiators regarding funds.

With a preliminary hearing scheduled for Nov. 4, Ritchie said he will have no choice but to quit because he and a colleague cannot keep working for free.

He said he needs four additional lawyers to go through tens of thousands of pages of evidence disclosed by the prosecution.

"Here we are four weeks before a preliminary hearing on the 15 counts of first-degree murder where counsel for the defence has been working hundreds of unpaid hours on a good faith basis to see that this matter goes ahead," Ritchie said.

Ritchie outlined the problem to Judge David Stone in Port Coquitlam provincial court Friday as Pickton watched via video monitor from jail.

Stone said that if Ritchie is forced off the case, it would likely cost the taxpayer more in terms of delays.

Ritchie told Stone that it would not be wise for Pickton to represent himself, something he reiterated to reporters afterwards.

"He's not used to being in jail. He's in jail and has been in jail a long time and on these counts, because they're so serious, he's going to remain in jail until they're dealt with it appears," Ritchie said.

Ritchie said he will file a Rowbotham application in B.C. Supreme Court next week, which demands that the charges be stayed in a case if the government does not financially aid the defendant.

The principal was established in a 1988 Ontario Court of Appeal decision which said an accused person who can't afford a lawyer can request government funding even if they wouldn't normally qualify for legal aid. If the money isn't made available, the charges can be stayed.

Attorney-General Geoff Plant, who on Wednesday agreed that Ritchie's team requires financial assistance, accused the prominent defence lawyer Friday of negotiating in the media by threatening to quit.

"I am not working according to the timetable set by Mr. Ritchie's threat in the media," Plant said. "Mr. Ritchie has a $375,000 lien on Mr. Pickton's property. Mr. Ritchie accepted this case a long time ago knowing he was responsible for making his own arrangements for an appropriate retainer and now in this stage in the proceedings, he wants government funding. I take that request seriously."

When Ritchie took the case last February, Pickton was facing just two counts of murder. Eight of the 15 counts have been added in the last two weeks.

But Plant said he must carefully consider what would be appropriate for the government to pay.

"We continue to work in an orderly measured way to deal with this request knowing that Mr. Ritchie is anxious for a response," Plant said.

Plant said there was great scrutiny on his ministry's part before similar funding arrangements were approved recently for the three suspects in the 1985 Air India case, one of whom is a multimillionaire who owns several companies.

"We will, I am sure, be in a position to conclude a responsible arrangement with Mr. Pickton's counsel in the very near future and that is what I am working towards," Plant said.

Meanwhile, the intensive forensic site search on two Pickton properties continued Friday with demolition of a shed.

In Victoria Supreme Court, the City of Port Coquitlam filed its response to a lawsuit launched last month by the father of Marceila Creison, one of the missing women.

Lawyer David Butcher denied any wrongdoing or liability on behalf of the City of Port Coquitlam. The suit alleges that the B.C. government and the cities of Port Coquitlam and Vancouver, as well as the Vancouver police department are responsible for the fact that no one followed up on reports of women disappearing from the Downtown Eastside for years.

kbolan@pacpress.southam.ca

 Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun

Courtesy of

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016