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Craig James' involvement in own retirement benefit raised by prosecutors

Former Clerk of the House helped direct own deposit, court hears
Craig James.

Special Crown prosecutors are examining the extent to which former B.C. legislature clerk Craig James was involved in his own retroactive $257,988 retirement benefit now subject to breach of trust and fraud charges.

Evidence against James is expected to conclude by Friday when special Crown prosecutors Brock Martland and David Butcher intend to start explaining how and why the former legislature clerk committed three counts of breach of trust and two counts of fraud.

So far, this week, B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes has heard testimony from former Speaker of the House Bill Barisoff and past Auditor General of B.C. senior auditor Paul Nyquist concerning the controversial retirement benefit paid to James in February 2012.

The benefit was cancelled in 1987, the same year James became a committee clerk, according to legislature documents. Martland led Barisoff through a review of how James became entitled to it.

Barisoff first explained that the benefit was raised in 2011 by former assistant clerk Robert Vaive, who came to Barisoff asserting he was entitled to it.

Barisoff said he sought a legal opinion, which eventually came from lawyer Donald Farquhar at Pearlman Lindholm law firm.

Asked by Martland who retained Farquhar, Barisoff said it was his assistant or the clerk’s office but was not able to provide a precise answer.

Martland raised a January 2012 invoice from Farquhar to the clerk’s office that charged the Pearlamn Lindholm account for, among other things, six conference calls with James and Barisoff, including preparing an opinion on Vaive’s payout.

Also, a Sept. 16, 2013 letter from Farquhar to new speaker Linda Reid (Barisoff’s replacement) states his legal advice provided to Barisoff in December 2011 was verbal. The letter says nothing of James’ eligibility.

But what happened, as explained by Barisoff, is four people being paid the benefit: Vaive, James, deputy clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd and law clerk Ian Izard.

This is contentious as documents from 1987 state the benefit was capped that year (Vaive may have been eligible himself, as he worked at the legislature before 1987, unlike James and Ryan-Lloyd)

The four payments occurred, in part, because at some point Barisoff penned a letter approving them. James noted this in a Feb. 10, 2012 letter to legislature comptroller Dan Arbic, who was in charge of releasing the funds.

“The Speaker has instructed that the long service award/retirement plan for Table Officers be terminated as of Feb. 8, 2012 and that Kate and I be paid out,” wrote James to Arbic.

James had a further hand in explaining the apparent confusion among some staff when on Feb. 15, 2012 he wrote to payroll manager Maureen Olson as “clarification” that Barisoff’s letter was drafted by Farquhar and “though referencing Officers of the House it is meant to include only Table Officers, the remaining two being Kate and myself and no one else.”

James’ apparent involvement in his own payment prompted Martland to ask Barisoff if he considered it to be a conflict of interest.

Barisoff said the matter never crossed his mind nor did he reach out to Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser at the time.

Asked by defence counsel Gavin Cameron if James pressured Barisoff to release the benefit to him, Barisoff said, “absolutely not.”

Barisoff maintained he was in charge of the legislature and the retirement payments were in the public interest as they were to be the last when Barisoff simultaneously terminated the program. However, Barisoff said he never saw the 1987 documentation that the benefit program had been terminated then.

Meanwhile, Paul Nyquist testified Tuesday that during his long career as a chartered professional accountant and having worked extensively with the auditor general's office, he had never seen an organization (the legislature) with so many accounting deficiencies. Nyquist said at the time of auditing the legislature in 2012 he understood the retirement benefit to have been terminated in 1987.

Farquhar is scheduled to testify Wednesday.

James has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

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