House: Richardson hire under spotlight
MPs clashed in the House of Assembly over the hiring of a defence lawyer to run the Government’s Legal Aid office.
Opposition backbencher Trevor Moniz questioned whether Charles Richardson — who he described as one of the island’s “leading and very good defence counsel” — was a civil servant or a consultant in his role managing the Legal Aid office, which helps people with limited funds get legal help and representation.
Mr Moniz said it appeared the Government had “some confusion” as to Mr Richardson’s status.
He claimed there was a “difficulty” with Mr Richardson signing off as the acting senior Legal Aid counsel, when only civil servants could perform in an “acting” capacity.
The comments, during a debate on Wednesday evening on the budget for the Ministry of Legal Affairs, prompted Zane DeSilva, the Minister of Tourism, to suggest the question was racially motivated.
Mr DeSilva referred to lawyer Richard Ambrosio, who worked as a consultant to Mr Moniz when the One Bermuda Alliance MP was the Attorney-General.
Mr DeSilva said: “If Charles Richardson was white or had the last name Ambrosio, would the honourable member Trevor Moniz still have the same question?”
Mr Moniz said the comments were “unparliamentary”, adding: “That’s certainly not the case and he knows it.”
Mr DeSilva said: “I didn’t accuse him but if the hat fits.”
Mr Moniz replied: “That’s disgraceful.”
Mr DeSilva said it was “amazing” that Mr Moniz would raise the issue when there were never any questions about Mr Ambrosio’s role in government.
Mr Moniz replied: “Mr Ambrosio was simply a consultant. I’m simply asking is Mr Richardson a consultant or is he a substantive post holder. I’m asking if he is one or the other? I’ve already said he’s a very good defence lawyer.”
Government backbencher Derrick Burgess said: “That’s not a question for this debate. We have got to question the figures, not the persons, and he should know that.”
Mr Moniz said his question was related to a specific line item in the Budget Book and he was asking whether Mr Richardson was one of the full-time employees listed there.
Health minister Kim Wilson, speaking on Legal Affairs in place of Attorney-General Kathy Lynn Simmons, confirmed that Mr Richardson was a consultant.
“His contract expires on March 31,” she said. “His salary is coming out of the professional services budget. He does represent one of those eight [employees listed for fiscal year 2019-20].”
Ms Simmons told the Senate during last year’s Budget debate that Mr Richardson was “doing a sterling job” leading the Legal Aid office and helping to reduce costs.
Legal Aid has been allocated $1.85 million for the coming year, a 10 per cent increase on last year’s estimate.
Ms Wilson said $1 million was for salaries, $660,000 was for legal services and $191,000 was for administrative expenses other than salaries.
She said the office had three administrative posts and three legal posts: a senior Legal Aid counsel, a paralegal and a law pupil. Two additional Legal Aid lawyers are to be hired.
The minister added: “These three counsel will attend court and represent clients at a reduced cost to the public purse, since they will be on salary rather than drawing an hourly fee. We expect to see appreciable savings using this model.”
Ms Wilson said: “For the first time, the Legal Aid counsel will be not simply managing the scheme but they will also have conduct of serious cases in the Supreme Court, such as murder and firearm matters.”
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