Judges mulls 6th lawyer for N.W.T. man accused of second-degree murder

The courthouse in Yellowknife. Devon Larabie, who has a history of firing his defence lawyers, is set to stand trial on second-degree murder in November.  (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)
The courthouse in Yellowknife. Devon Larabie, who has a history of firing his defence lawyers, is set to stand trial on second-degree murder in November. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)

An N.W.T. court is considering adding a sixth lawyer to Devon Larabie's defence. Larabie is facing a charge of second-degree murder and has already fired three defence lawyers.

Larabie is now working with a fourth defence lawyer, and has been assigned a fifth, known as an "amicus" or "friend of the court," who would be able to assist him should he fire his fourth lawyer.

But the role of the amicus in Canadian courts is in flux. A Supreme Court case underway could change what this lawyer is and isn't allowed to do before Larabie's trial in November.

So N.W.T. Supreme Court Justice David Gates is considering adding a sixth lawyer who would be solely in charge of cross-examination, if needed.

Larabie, who will stand trial for second degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Breanna Menacho, cannot cross-examine witnesses if he ends up firing his current lawyer and representing himself.

"Out of caution … I don't want to see us get into a time crunch," Gates said

This month marks three years since Menacho was found dead in Yellowknife.

Co-accused Jordan Nande and Lisa Brulé were sentenced over two years ago, after pleading guilty to charges related to the death.

Lawyer standing by

During the pretrial conference on Tuesday morning, the potential fifth representative, Ottawa-based lawyer John Hale, attended by video.

While Hale said he did not see any issue with the task of being appointed as a friend of the court, Justice Gates repeated concerns about how the role of an amicus might change if the Supreme Court decision is delivered before November.

"[We] need to be careful about confusing the role of an amicus … we cannot force counsel upon him that he or she doesn't want," Gates said.

Hale was not officially appointed as the fifth representative during the conference, but said he would give his decision by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the decision about adding on third counsel, sixth overall, has yet to be determined.

Defence 'confident' they won't be fired

The meeting was held to clarify the amicus role, and the potential use of a sixth representative, but both will only come into play if current Ottawa-based defence lawyer, Micheal Spratt, is fired.

Larabie did not attend the conference himself, but Spratt said several times in the courtroom that he "does not anticipate being fired."

Larabie fired his first three first lawyers provided through legal aid and ended up filing a Rowbotham application through which he was provided a panel of three lawyers to choose from. He chose Spratt, who has practiced in the territory.

While confident in his role, Spratt said he had no position on whether or not a "friend of the court" was appointed, and did not weigh in on the potential sixth lawyer.

Meanwhile, prosecutor Blair MacPherson questioned at one point "how productive" the conversation was exploring different scenarios.

"I don't know how helpful it is to speculate on what the state of affairs might be at that point," MacPherson said.

Justice Gates said the "devil was in the details" and wanted to explore potential scenarios to ensure the trial would move forward.

"I don't want to find myself in a situation where Mr. Spratt is discharged and then Mr. Hale says, 'I won't do that,'" Gates said.

The judge-only trial is set for Nov. 14 and is expected to last five weeks.