Murder: Not for hire

By Jeff Labine

Opposing counsel agrees on one thing: accused murderer Leif Hobson doesn’t care how much his attorney is paid.

Hobson, 19, was in Superior Court on Tuesday seeking approval of his application to have defence attorney George Joseph represent him in court. Joseph is seeking a rate of $170 an hour, but as part of the Criminal Lawyers Association’s boycott of legal aid certificate murder cases, is unwilling to take the case.

The CLA boycott began on June 8, a protest of what lawyers called inadequate compensation when they took on Legal Aid cases.

Hobson is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the July burning death of 65-year-old Edgar Marion.

“I’ve represented Hobson before in other matters,” said Joseph. “He is charged with a very serious crime and he looks to me because he has confidence in me. I’m happy to represent him at a fair rate, one that doesn’t make my practice bankrupt.”

Troy Harrison, Crown attorney for the Administration of the Attorney General, presented his submissions in court, outlining three issues he had with the application: that public funding is already available for an attorney; the court has no jurisdiction to set wages and if the application was approved, not to deviate from Legal Aid rates.

“The legal aid rates are appropriate and there is no need to deviate,” Harrison said in court. “It would be inappropriate to set another rate. It’s my submission that unless Legal Aid has been denied, there is no basis for a new (public funded order).”

Harrison pointed out that Hobson has a Legal Aid certificate.

Harrison said the application was premature and that Hobson needed to look for a lawyer that would accept the legal aid certificate before submitting an application. He suggested Hobson be given 30 days to find a lawyer who would accept the certificate.
“The difficulty of this case is not from the legal aid rates but from the Criminal Lawyers Association boycott,” he said.

Harrison said the court should not get involved in a “labour dispute.” He then moved the application be dismissed.

Paul Burstein, acting counsel for Hobson and the CLA president, said enough is enough and for Hobson to have a fair trial, he must have a lawyer.

“This case is not about the courts jurisdiction to set wages,” said Burstein after court adjourned. “This is simply about Hobson getting a fair trial. Right now, he can because he has a piece of paper that was issued by Legal Aid Ontario. Nobody wants to take this long and complicated case using a piece of paper that pays a very crummy rate for lawyers who do very hard work.”

Burstein said even if the boycott goes for 10 years the issue is whether Hobson would be able to get a fair trial when he defends himself against the charge of murder. He said lawyers, such as Joseph, are willing to take Hobson’s case. but are tired of donating their time.

Burstein said he is not concerned that legal aid is hiring staff lawyers. He said studies show they aren’t an effective way to deal with murder cases and that it’s a colossal waste of public money.

“The rate that we are asking the court to set isn’t necessarily what we are saying is appropriate. It is a rate that the government’s own studies said is not only the reasonable rate but the minimum rate at which a senior experience criminal lawyer would be willing to come back and defend cases like Hobson,” he said.

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