Frustration is mounting among plaintiffs in a lawsuit between a group of victims of convicted pedophile Ed Horne, and the lawyers who represented them in a multimillion-dollar settlement with the Government of the Northwest Territories.
On Tuesday, one plaintiff stormed out of court and another screamed over the phone before hanging up mid-hearing, as the judge in the case refused to proceed over a lack of contact information for each of the 143 plaintiffs and adjourned the case indefinitely.
After a five-month hiatus, the matter was back in court to settle a dispute over whether the plaintiffs' lawyer, Alan Regel, should be allowed to continue representing them.
Regel was sidelined in October after defence lawyer James Morton made Regel a defendant in the lawsuit by filing a third party notice. By law, a lawyer can't both represent clients and be a defendant in the same case.
But the latest delay in the case is over contacting the 143 plaintiffs, many of whom live in remote Nunavut communities. One of the lawyers said even getting accurate phone numbers and addresses for all of them "may be impossible to fulfil."
Chance to participate
Back in October, Justice Paul Bychok said he wanted to ensure all the plaintiffs had a chance to know what was going on with the case, get another lawyer to represent them if they wanted, and have a chance to participate in the proceedings.
To ensure all the above, Bychok asked Regel's lawyer Jon Rossall – who's representing Regel to fight the third party notice – to contact all of the plaintiffs and inform them of what's happening. He also asked the lawyers to compile a list of the plaintiffs, with contact information, so the court could reach out itself.
On Tuesday, Bychok said court staff were given the list only 12 days before the matter was back in court – and the list had phone numbers for only 60 plaintiffs, of which less than half were still active. Bychok also said some mailing addresses were marked simply as General Delivery.
Only seven plaintiffs phoned in to hear the proceedings Tuesday, while one other showed up in person.
"I really do appreciate this can be very frustrating for the 143 plaintiffs that are involved, but if we're to proceed fairly and justly, all the plaintiffs must be given a meaningful opportunity to participate if that is their wish," Bychok said.
He added he had told court staff not to mail out letters given the short timeframe.
Judge's request may be 'impossible to fulfil'
Given a chance to comment on Bychok's remarks, Rossall said of the letters lawyers sent out in January to the plaintiffs to inform them of what was happening, 129 came back signed to confirm they were received.
But as for compiling a contact list for each plaintiff, Rossall said they did their best.
"I apologize if the list has gaps in it, but my information is it is difficult to maintain constant, up-to-date contact information for many of these people," Rossall said.
"Many times, the best we can do is notify a next-door neighbour to contact an individual and have them respond. That's the practical issue that we're faced with.
"My fear, sir, is what you are asking of me may be impossible to fulfil in terms of giving detailed, accurate, specific contact information for every individual plaintiff."
Rossall also said Regel's clients are getting frustrated with the delays.
"In the meantime, the plaintiffs are losing faith in the administration of justice, and the ability of myself, and other counsel, to deal with this critical issue," Rossall said.
"I appreciate the court's desire to ensure that every individual plaintiff has notice of what is occurring, but it seems to me that if we were able to show 129 [of them] had notice, that is more than a representative group of these individuals."
The lawyers and the judge were to discuss the matter this afternoon and decide how to proceed.