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Thomas ‘owed’ $800,000 for helping children

Legal bill: litigation guardian Tiffanne Thomas (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A children’s litigation guardian has asked for $800,000 as payment for her services, but estimated the real cost for four years of work at about $2.8 million.

Tiffanne Thomas, an independent social worker, was told by the Premier’s Chief of Staff this year that the Minister of Social Development and Sport was “looking to find the money” to pay her for her work representing vulnerable children since 2014.

Owen Darrell e-mailed Ms Thomas on April 25 in response to a request that he bring the issue of payment for her services to the attention of David Burt, the Premier, to help resolve the problem.

Mr Darrell told her he would ensure the Premier “sees this today”.

The Chief of Staff wrote in a second e-mail the same day: “I saw Minister Weeks today in the Premier’s office.

“He admitted that he has correspondence from you that he hasn’t followed up on. He asked that I allow him to follow up with you.

“I will mention to the Premier the contents of your letter, but Minister Weeks has assured us that he is looking to find the money for you.”

The e-mail correspondence was revealed by a source yesterday.

Ms Thomas wrote in her e-mail to Mr Darrell that she had met Wayne Caines, the national security minister, about the money owed to her on February 21 and he promised to “explore it on his end and follow up” with her.

She said she had also met Michael Weeks, the social development minister, who was removed from Cabinet last week, on February 28.

He “gave a verbal commitment to ensure” the matter of her back pay was tackled, along with a proposal for her company to continue to provide litigation guardian services to youngsters in court.

Ms Thomas wrote: “I have never refused a case simply because the Bermuda Government has not determined the way forward regarding ensuring

payment for services.

“Payment has been delayed as many ministers and/or civil servants debate the ministry/department responsible for rendering payment — an issue that I would respectfully suggest does not have any bearing on the fact that payment must be rendered.”

Another e-mail sent by Ms Thomas in September explained the $800,000 she wanted from Government was based on a $200,000 a year figure, but that the sum could have been much higher.

She wrote: “I have been appointed to thirty-two cases in the last four years, several of which are ongoing assignments.

“I can safely say that the average costs for LG matters to date is approximately $1,900 per month, per case — ie $22,800 in 2014; $182,400 in 2015; $182,400 in 2016; $91,200 in 2017 and $228,000 in the first half of 2018 — an average yearly cost of $141,360.

“It should be noted, however, that the stated costs per year do not include the aggregate total costs that carry over for active cases from the previous years.”

She added: “Had I included the aggregate total costs my claim for remuneration would be approximately $2.8 million for the past four years I have dedicated to servicing the Courts of Bermuda, the Bermuda Government and our vulnerable population.”

Ms Thomas said she offered on several occasions to discuss a fixed salary arrangement with the Government to control costs.

She said: “I explained that fees will always be more expensive than salaries — such an approach would not be sustainable or cost efficient.

“When I noticed that the fees had the potential to get out of hand I reached out to be proactive as, while I am not a cabinet minister, I am a citizen of this country and expect our finances to be managed responsibly.”

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, said on Tuesday that the Government had “no legal obligation” to pay Ms Thomas for her work.

She told the Bermuda Broadcasting Company: “That matter was before the Supreme Court and the court determined that we have no legal obligation to pay Ms Thomas.

“Ms Thomas has launched an appeal with regard to that decision and therefore we are not authorised to discuss that any further.”

But Ms Thomas insisted that she had not started legal action.

She said: “Her inaccurate and misleading statement is alarming and made all the worse by the fact that she failed to address or comment on the numerous assurances I was given by her own chambers and assorted ministers that I would be paid for the work that I have performed.”