Deputy clerk of BC legislature told to trust pension payout advice, lawsuit hears

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The former deputy clerk of the British Columbia legislature told a trial that before returning a retiring allowance, she received assurances from government officials that it was a valid request.

The $258,000 retirement allowance his then-boss, former clerk Craig James, received in 2012 is the largest among several payments subject to criminal allegations of wasteful spending that James denies.

The B.C. Supreme Court trial heard outstanding claims about 1984 benefits paid to shield the Legislative Assembly from liability and that the Auditor General’s office raised concerns about the substantial payments in 2013.

Kate Ryan-Lloyd, who was James’ junior at the time but now holds the title of clerk, told the court that when she became concerned about his eligibility for a $118,000 payment, she approached then-President Bill Barisoff and George McMinn, James’ predecessor.

Ryan-Lloyd testified in cross-examination that McMinn told her she would have to trust James if he consulted both a lawyer and the president, while Barisoff said her eligibility was based on “advice sound legal system”.

She previously testified that she returned the funds in 2013 after James did not give her a copy of a written legal opinion supporting the payments, even though she had repeatedly requested this information.

Ryan-Lloyd said she felt “uncomfortable” with the large payout and that it was “not right”.

“After speaking with Mr McMinn, you spoke with Mr Barisoff and he assured you that he was in favor of ending the pension benefits and had legal advice which you were eligible for. The president gave you the impression that it was the right thing to do and that he was a careful steward of public funds, is that fair,” defense attorney Gavin Cameron asked Ryan-Lloyd.

“Yes,” she replied.

She did not attempt to directly contact the attorney James consulted, she said.

James pleaded not guilty to two counts of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of breach of trust by a public official.

The allegations stem from his time as clerk, a role compared in court to the CEO of the legislature, from 2011 until he was placed on administrative leave in 2018.

The Crown argues that the evidence against him rests on three main elements: his application for retirement benefits, the purchase with public funds of a trailer and a wood splitter, and the claims for reimbursement of travel expenses.

The court heard the $3,200 log splitter and $10,000 trailer were purchased in the name of emergency preparedness so they could be used in the event of an earthquake or other disaster to build fires, shelters and remove debris.

Crown prosecutor David Butcher argued that storing them at James’ home would render them ‘completely useless’ in an emergency at the legislature.

One of James’ neighbors, James Cassels, testified Monday that he saw both a trailer and a log splitter on the property in front of his home.

He said he had never seen or heard of the log splitter used by James.

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