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Picktonís bid for legal help goes behind closed doors

Neal Hall
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, November 02, 2002

A bid to have taxpayers foot the bill for six lawyers to defend alleged serial killer Robert Pickton will be heard partly in secret.

Patrick Dohm

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Patrick Dohm agreed Friday to a request by Peter Ritchie, who is seeking money from the province to defend Pickton, to hear a portion of the argument behind closed doors.

Pickton is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder. The alleged victims were among 63 women who disappeared in recent years from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The investigation that led to the charges against Pickton is considered the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history.

Peter Ritchie

Ritchie withdrew as Pickton's lawyer on Oct. 11 but has continued to try to obtain government funding for Pickton's defence.

During Friday's hearing, Dohm decided to hear a "Rowbotham" application by Ritchie at 2 p.m. Monday at the Vancouver Law Courts.

A Rowbotham application is made to seek government funding of a defence to ensure an accused without money has a fair trial. If funding is denied, an accused person can then ask a judge to stay the proceedings.

Ritchie said a closed session was necessary so he could frankly discuss the evidence against his client and the Crown's theory about the alleged serial murders.

The Vancouver Sun and seven other media outlets opposed the request for a closed courtroom. Their lawyer, Dan Burnett, argued the Pickton case is the biggest murder trial in Canadian history, and suggested placing a publication ban on sensitive material rather than closing the courtroom to the media and the public.

But Dohm said it was an exceptional case and he wanted to protect the right of the accused to a fair jury trial.

He said he would close the courtroom for part of the hearing, with only lawyers and an official court reporter present. He added that he will maintain control of the tape recording and any transcript of the proceedings.

Dohm said his concern was not with responsible members of the media, but that an irresponsible person could disseminate the evidence, especially over the Internet.

Bans on publication made by judges in Canada would only apply to Canadian media and would not affect the ability of U.S. or international media to report on the proceedings.

Government lawyer George Copley said earlier this week the government has agreed to provide enough money for "an adequate defence, not a Cadillac defence" for Pickton.

The problem is that Pickton is worth millions on paper, but his main asset -- a Port Coquitlam pig farm co-owned with family members -- is tied up by a massive police search for DNA samples and other forensic evidence.

The battle over funding for Pickton means it is unlikely his preliminary hearing will proceed as scheduled Monday, Ritchie said Friday.

He said he will appear Monday morning in provincial court in Port Coquitlam as a "friend of the court" -- not Pickton's lawyer -- to ask the judge for a one-week adjournment of the preliminary hearing.

"He doesn't know what to do in a courtroom," Ritchie said of Pickton, who is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder.

"If he seeks a one-week adjournment, of course that's entirely up to the judge at the provincial court to decide whether he will grant an adjournment," the lawyer told reporters.

"Even if the one-week adjournment happens, it look like there are going to be considerable delays because the government will not fund this case properly so that we can retain other lawyers from other law firms, who might be available to get this case ready."

Asked if Pickton has agreed to the one-week delay, Ritchie said: "He wants to get this case going, as I've been telling the government for many months.

"This should have been resolved months ago, but the parsimonious, bean-counting approach that the government has taken has resulted in delay," the defence lawyer said outside court.

"Hopefully the delay won't be too long but I expect it will be some time," he added.

Ritchie maintains a minimum of six lawyers are needed because of the complexity of the case. The government has offered a 30-day interim funding agreement for three lawyers and a legal assistant, but Ritchie rejected that offer Thursday, calling it inadequate and unfair.

He said the police investigation has cost millions but the government is being tight-fisted when it comes to providing Pickton with a proper defence team.

The preliminary hearing slated to begin Monday is expected to last more than three months.

Ritchie told reporters Friday that he and his colleague, Marilyn Sandford, have spent about 700 hours on the case since February but have been paid for only 90.

The uncertainty about whether the preliminary hearing will proceed has also posed a problem for families of murder victims, some of whom booked off work and made travel arrangements to attend Monday's hearing.

"We'll be there in Port Coquitlam Monday morning, ready to go," prosecutor Mike Petrie told reporters. "It's Mr. Pickton's right, if he wishes, to pursue the preliminary hearing on his own. Whether he will do that or not, I do not know."

The provincial court judge might decide that Pickton needs to be represented by counsel, Petrie said.

But judging from what was said in court Friday, it is likely that Pickton will request an adjournment and even more likely that the preliminary hearing will be adjourned for some time, Petrie said.

On Friday, Dohm said he was "terribly disappointed" that a defence funding solution hadn't been reached.

"I want to emphasize ... the court is not going to react to pressure from anybody," the judge said during a brief session in the new, $7-million, high-security courtroom at the Vancouver Law Courts that was built for the trial of three men charged in the bombing of an Air India jet in 1985.

© Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016