The lawyer for a businessman fighting N.B. Liquor in court is questioning whether the Crown corporation signed a settlement with a fired employee that would stop her from co-operating with the lawsuit as a whistleblower.
Erica Brown is demanding that the corporation's former director of finance Stacey McKinney turn over all documents related to any settlement between her and N.B. Liquor.
She says in a Nov. 11 letter filed in court that she fears McKinney and her lawyer "may have made a deal" that included her ending her co-operation with the legal case.
Brown is representing Peter Cook, a Hartland businessman seeking a judicial review of N.B. Liquor's decision to move a lucrative agency store contract to another retailer in the village.
A year ago, McKinney, who was fired by N.B. Liquor in 2020, appeared willing to testify for Cook about the Crown corporation's management practices.
According to a sworn affidavit by Cook and Brown's letter, McKinney approached them offering information about what she described as politically motivated decisions driven by N.B. Liquor board chair John Correia, a supporter of Premier Blaine Higgs.
She planned at the time to claim whistleblower status and ask the Labour and Employment Board to rule on her firing, according to her lawyer at the time.
But McKinney abruptly withdrew her complaint against N.B. Liquor this fall, according to a Nov. 2 letter from the labour board filed in court.
In an affidavit filed in Court of King's Bench on Nov. 1, McKinney said she had no information contradicting N.B. Liquor's arguments in the lawsuit by Cook, who claims he lost the contract for an agency liquor store because of political interference.
Her affidavit does not say whether she reached a settlement with the liquor corporation.
Brown responded in a Nov. 11 letter to McKinney's lawyer, John Phillips, saying when she and Cook met McKinney last year, "the information your client provided was highly relevant to my client's litigation and of a high degree of knowledge and expertise."
Brown says McKinney asked for the meeting so she could disclose her "grievances" with N.B. Liquor to Cook.
McKinney's then-lawyer Christian Michaud told a court hearing last year that she was fired from the corporation in June 2020 when she was about to reveal details of financial improprieties to the audit committee of the N.B. Liquor board of directors.
That firing took place before the Hartland agency store contract was taken away from Cook, but Michaud argued McKinney's general knowledge of N.B. Liquor management practices would support Cook's allegations.
Justice Hugh McLellan postponed the judicial review hearing to give McKinney time to apply for whistleblower status under the province's Public Interest Disclosure Act.
But in May, McKinney wrote to Brown saying her lawyer, Phillips, "has requested that I not discuss any N.B. Liquor matters with you or your client."
She wrote in her Nov. 1 affidavit that the statements Michaud and Brown made about her in court last year were made "without my instructions."
Brown wrote to Phillips that she was "shocked and amazed" he let McKinney swear an affidavit saying that.
She says Michaud's submissions in court last year "completely and accurately reflected" what McKinney told her last year and she has detailed notes from the meeting.
Brown's letter is part of the public court file.
In a new affidavit filed Nov. 14, Cook lists dozens of claims he says McKinney made about N.B. Liquor, including:
The corporation broke procurement rules in the controversial awarding of another agency store in Hanwell.
Correia, a close friend and advisor to Premier Blaine Higgs, "is all about giving contracts to his friends," the affidavit says.
"Political affiliations definitely have something to do" with the awarding of contracts.
Rules on how to assess agency store bids are "made up" by the corporation "to discriminate against certain people and companies that they don't want to have agency store contracts."
N.B. Liquor doesn't keep records of agency store bids or specific agreements with winning bidders, making it impossible to audit agency stores on their performance.
None of the allegations that Cook attributes to McKinney have been proven in court.
Higgs appointed Correia to the N.B. Liquor board in 2019 and he became chair in 2020.
He is a former co-chair of the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Party's fundraising operation and on top of chairing the corporation board, he's now also doing double duty as chair of the board and an advisor in Higgs's office.
N.B. Liquor did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations about Correia.
Some elements of the case were subject to a publication ban imposed by Court of King's Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare on Nov. 15.
DeWare lifted most of the ban on Wednesday after CBC News argued in a hearing that the ban wasn't justified.
She ruled the ban didn't meet the legal test for restricting the media from reporting on what happens in the courts.