By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours columnist
The new B.C. Rail corruption case judge says the trial should begin in early January 2010 – six years after police raided the B.C. Legislature.
Justice Anne MacKenzie told her first court hearing since taking over from Justice Elizabeth Bennett that she is intent on moving quickly to the trial of former B.C. government ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk for alleging leaking confidential B.C. Rail sale documents to lobbyists representing a bidder.
“You can anticipate that this trial will start in early January - that’s a reasonable assumption,” MacKenzie said.
But defence lawyer Kevin McCullough, representing Virk, was not convinced.
"I don't think disclosure will be completed," McCullough told MacKenzie.
"I do Mr. McCullough," MacKenzie replied sharply.
“This trial was going to start in November 2005,” McCullough pointed out while objecting to MacKenzie’s proposed schedule for remaining defence applications. "Mr. Justice [Patrick] Dohm said it was."
"I don't want to get off on the right foot - I want to be of help to the court," McCullough continued.
"You have been Mr. McCullough - I'd like to hear from the Crown," MacKenzie responded, cutting the defence lawyer off.
NDP MLA Leonard Krog was impressed with MacKenzie’s zeal to proceed.
“The train has a new engineer and she wants more coal in the fire box,” Krog said outside court. “She intends to drive this.”
"You get the feeling this judge is going to take a stronger view," Krog said, while being careful not to criticize Bennett's term in charge of the case. Krog is both NDP critic for the attorney general and a lawyer himself.
But defence lawyer Michael Bolton, representing Basi, was more cautious when asked if the trial will indeed begin in January.
"It all depends on the 11B motion," Bolton said, referring to a defence application that will argue the accused's Charter rights have been violated by not having their trial heard within reasonable time limits.
"Is there prejudice suffered by the accused?" Bolton asked.
The other reason the trial could be delayed - or not take place at all - is the impending decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of whether a secret witness will be heard under extremely restrictive circumstances.
Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino appealed a decision by Bennett that defence lawyers could be present in court when information about the secret witness or informer was discussed. Berardino objected, saying he wanted only the judge and his team in court, with defence, media and the public barred to ensure the witness was not identified.
Bennett disagreed, as did the BC Court of Appeal when Berardino requested it overturn her decision, leading himto take his appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Supreme Court of Canada heard the appeal in a one day hearing in April but has not yet rendered its decision.
The next court date is October 13 at 10 a.m. with three days set for BC Rail document issues.
December 1 was set down for hearing the Charter of Rights Section 11B application, which is expected to take five to eight days.
NOTE: A version of this story will appear in 24 hours newspaper on Thursday.