A B.C. Supreme Court judge on Thursday found the man described as the former ‘chief executive’ of the B.C. Legislature guilty of breach of trust and fraud in connection with refund claims inappropriate expenses for more than $1,800 worth of clothing.
In a split verdict, Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes acquitted former Clerk of the Legislature Craig James of two more counts of breach of trust and one of fraud over the improper claim of a $250 pension benefit. $000 and the storage of a publicly funded log splitter at his home. .
The guilty verdicts related to dress shirts and a tie purchased from Brooks Brothers in Vancouver and a suit purchased from Ede & Ravenscroft in London in 2018.
Holmes said James took charge of reimbursing the clothes by claiming they were for dress in the chambers of the Legislature – “when he knew they weren’t”.
James “breached the standard of conduct expected of him in his public office in a serious and marked manner and he knew it would deprive the Legislative Assembly of funds which he should not have been reimbursed,” Holmes said in delivering his verdict.
“His preference was dishonest, to do himself good at the expense of the public.”
“He should have completely disengaged”
James has pleaded not guilty to using his position as a household clerk to improperly access benefits ranging from a quarter-million-dollar retirement payout to expenses such as cufflinks and a Union pillow Jack embroidered with the words “God Save The Queen”.
Prosecutors also accused James of spearheading a decision to use Legislature funds to purchase a log splitter and trailer that were kept at his Victoria home – allegations that have sparked a avalanche of headlines.
In finding James not guilty on charges relating to the pension payment, Holmes said that while he should not have been involved in the process which saw the money awarded, the Crown had not proved that his behavior had risen to the level of a crime.
“The potential benefit to him personally was extremely significant and he should have fully disengaged and walked away from any further involvement in the transactions relating to his own right,” she said.
“However, although they raised strong suspicions that Mr James took advantage of opportune circumstances to serve his own interests rather than those of the public, the evidence did not establish beyond a reasonable doubt [that James was guilty of breach of conduct].”
The judge made a similar finding with respect to the allegations surrounding the log splitter.
She said there was no evidence James ‘interfered or overwhelmed’ the decision-making process that culminated in the purchase of the item for use in a catastrophic emergency at the Assembly legislative. She said that at most James was making “light” personal use of the log splitter.
‘It would not have been a responsible use of the assets of the Legislative Assembly and it would not have shown the scrupulous regard for the public good which was required of Mr James’ position,’ Holmes said.
She concluded that his use of the log splitter would have constituted a breach of the employee standard of conduct, but did not represent the type of “serious or marked deviation” from that bar necessary to prove him guilty of abuse of duty. trust.
Holmes said the Crown also failed to prove fraud in relation to many of the more insignificant items James purchased on overseas trips.
The decision was one of the most anticipated decisions in British Columbia politics in years.
James worked in the legislature from 1987 until his resignation in 2019, months after he was placed on administrative leave and taken off the field by police under a cloud of suspicion.
As House Clerk, he was both adviser to the Speaker of the House and overseer of the 300 administrative staff who provide nonpartisan support to politicians tasked by voters with running the province.
During a trial that lasted two months, the Crown argued that James had demonstrated a “marked departure from the standard of responsible management expected of a person in one of the most senior positions in the province. “.
Witnesses included a former Speaker of the House and the woman who succeeded James as clerk.
Kate Ryan-Lloyd voluntarily returned a pension payment written to her at the same time as James was receiving a $257,988.38 benefit under a program that prosecutors said had long been discontinued.
In a letter to James filed in evidence, she wrote: ‘I continue to be uncomfortable accepting such a large payment as a reward for long service.
“Bureaucratic incompetence” is not a crime
James did not testify in his own defense.
In their closing arguments, his lawyers claimed that prosecutors had provided no evidence of corruption, saying that at worst all the Crown had proven was that James could be guilty of “bureaucratic incompetence” – which does not is not a crime.
They instead pointed the finger at former Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas, whom defense attorney Gavin Cameron accused of going on a “crusade” to find wrongdoing.
“Mr. Plecas wrote a highly publicized report containing inflammatory and patently false allegations,” Cameron said.
“The evidence showed that reasonable and legitimate persons acting within reasonable administrative frameworks looked into the business conducted by Mr James in the open and never once suggested that there was fraud or crime.”
The defense argued that James could not benefit from buying the log splitter and only decided to keep it at home because there was no room in the legislature.
They said he was transparent with each of his claims for items challenged by the Crown, pointing out that all of his spending was overseen by several people who had only raised “a handful of questions” over half a decade and had never filed a complaint.
Crown attorney Brock Martland said the defense’s arguments about collective bureaucratic incompetence, which blame others, disregard James’ standing in the Legislative Assembly.