Burgess, Wilson at odds
Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess and Attorney General Kim Wilson appeared unable to agree yesterday on whether there was ever an agreement for Government to benefit from $4 million in damages being sought in a private legal case.
Mr Burgess and former Premier Ewart Brown were named as the two plaintiffs in the civil suit but Government paid more than $30,000 towards the legal fees.
Auditor General Heather Jacobs Matthews described the payments to a Canadian law firm as an “inappropriate use of public funds” in a damning report released week.
She told Government: “The monies must be recovered and returned to the public purse”.
Transport Minister Mr Burgess was quoted in yesterday’s Bermuda Sun as saying he sent an e-mail to the Attorney General in August 2010 pledging that neither he nor Dr Brown would profit from the defamation and conspiracy action.
He reportedly told the newspaper: “I advised him that both the then ex-Premier and the Minister were not proceeding with the action for any personal gain and that they undertook to remit to the Government any proceeds from the legal action.”
The quote appears to refer to a male Attorney General, though in August 2010 the position was held by Kim Wilson. She was replaced by Michael Scott on November 1, 2010 but returned to the role on November 2, 2011.
Senator Wilson said in a statement on Tuesday evening: “I have now had the opportunity to review this entire matter and I can confirm that there is no record of an agreement for damages to be paid back to Government by any party.
“This notwithstanding, I am advised that discussions relative to the matter were ongoing.”
Asked by The Royal Gazette if Mr Burgess’s e-mail was not “record of an agreement”, she responded: “I stand by my earlier comments, which I believe were clear.”
Mr Burgess spoke about the legal fees matter on the Everest DaCosta radio show on Friday. He was asked who would have benefited from any damages won in the case.
The Minister replied: “If the Government had sponsored it all the way, certainly the Government, if it was successful, the Government would have to get their monies back, plus some damages to Government and also some damages to the employee because, you know, when you damage an employee you are damaging their family also.
“You know politicians are human also. They have families also. We bleed like everybody else.”
He added: “Had the Government stayed and paid for the entire case, and let’s say the case cost $100,000 and we were awarded $4 million, the money would have been payable to the Government and the Government would be the one that would determine how much damage that the Ministers incurred, because the Government got some damage also.
“The Government got damaged also. So it was never the intent of us asking the Government to pay this here and we’re think[ing] we are going to get all the money. The money wouldn’t be payable to us it would be payable to the Government.”
Challenged by a caller as to why he and Dr Brown were named as plaintiffs, rather than Government, he said: “The principle that I said remains. Whether it’s in my name, Dr Brown’s name or the Government’s name, I don’t expect, nor does Dr Brown expect, for the Government to pay x amount of dollars for a personal case against me. It’s a case against the Government Ministers.”
He continued: “We did not draw up the paperwork. The paperwork was done by the AG, I think the AG’s Chambers or the DPP, whatever they were. Not us.”
Mr Burgess, along with Dr Brown, is still pursuing the legal case in Canada against Canadian architect Sam Spagnuolo and Bermuda Government’s Chief Architect Lawrence Brady, the brother-in-law of Royal Gazette editor Bill Zuill.
The Minister reportedly told the Sun that he and Dr Brown were named in the action when taxpayers were paying the fees because “in Canada, you can’t sue for defamation in the name of a Government”.
He is quoted as saying the Premier or Attorney General should be the ones to explain why Government stopped paying the legal fees in September 2011 after complaints from the Auditor.
This newspaper sent a series of questions to Mr Burgess yesterday about his public comments on the legal fees issue. We also asked him to share his August 2010 e-mail correspondence with the Attorney General.
A Transport Ministry spokesman said the Minister had no comment.