Opposition MPs questioned the cost of the legal expenses for lawsuit the Bermuda Government filed against Lahey Clinic, with Attorney General Trevor Moniz replying that the amounts being paid “would give an indication of the scale and scope of the work being done which is privileged information” and “it would be prejudicial to the ongoing litigation to release these numbers.”
Government Sues Lahey Clinic
Last month the Bermuda Government filed a lawsuit in the federal court of Massachusetts alleging that Lahey Clinic conspired with former Premier Dr Ewart Brown.
The lawsuit alleges that “the enterprise was wildly successful and resulted in the enrichment of both Lahey and Brown at the expense of the Bermudian Government and people.” You can read the full complaint here.
Dr Brown’s Lawyers Express Concern
Lawyers acting on behalf of Dr Brown — who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, however is cited as a “non-party co-conspirator” — have expressed concern about the way the matter was handled.
A letter [PDF] sent to the Attorney-General by his lawyers said “As you know, our client is the subject of a long-running criminal investigation in the pursuit of which the Bermuda Police Service has recently carried out several high profile and widely reported searches and an arrest.
“The legality of these interventions is under consideration by the courts. Our client has continuously and publicly denied any wrongdoing whatsoever and continues to do so.
The letter stated that it was “with alarm and dismay” that they read the Complaint as well as the accompanying press statement.
“By making public statements on behalf of the Government of Bermuda that describe serious criminal conduct, and by pronouncing our client’s guilt to the world without even purporting to frame your statements as mere allegations, you have violated several fundamental tenets of the Bermudian constitutional settlement,” the letter said.
“As you’well know, as an Attorney General and a serving Member of Parliament, the Bermudian constitution and well-established – and hitherto scrupulously respected – constitutional convention, prevents you from having any knowledge of, or involvement with, criminal investigations.
“We would find it difficult to believe that the Complaint could have been prepared without the benefit of material and information gathered during the course of the ongoing criminal investigation into our client.
“Finally, and perhaps most shockingly, the Complaint and the accompanying statement clearly relate to a pending criminal investigation in Bermuda and were made with the intention to encourage a global public to believe that our client is guilty of serious criminal conduct.”
The letter also alleged that the Attorney General “appear to have violated our client’s constitutional right to be presumed innocent, and undermined the fairness of any future trial.”
“What is more, you did so without any prior notice to our client of an intention to make these grave allegations against him; still less give him an opportunity to comment and rebut them.”
Opposition Question Legal Costs
During the last session of Parliament, Shadow Attorney General Michael Scott started off by asking the Attorney General a Parliamentary Question, saying: “Will the Honourable Attorney General please advise this Honourable House as to the cost of the retainer and the projected legal expenses being charged to the Bermuda Government by the Boston law firm Cooley LLP, including the ongoing cost for maintaining the civil suit against Lahey Clinic Inc.?
Audio excerpt of some of the exchange in the House of Assembly:
Attorney General Trevor Moniz said, “No retainer has been paid to Cooley. Fees are being paid on a time basis based on the hours spent by the lawyers engaged in the matter.
“They cannot give total costs, the exact amounts being paid give an indication, would give an indication of the scale and scope of the work being done which is privileged information, that’s sub judice at the moment.
“It would be prejudicial to the ongoing litigation to release these numbers. In relation to the projected costs, once again I can not give cost figures which would give an indication of the scale and scope of the work being preformed. In any event, it would be impossible to provide a projection in advance of the work of any defense Lahey will acquire.”
Opposition Leader David Burt said, “The privileges of this House are to receive answers to questions. It is the responsibility of Parliament to approve finances and to understand how money is spent.
“A question was asked for information which directly lies within the agreement of the Attorney General, and it is my submission, that he should be directed to answer the question and not hide behind privilege.”
MP Kim Wilson said, “I’d like to address you with respect to the attempted answer by the Attorney General claiming privilege because of ongoing litigation.
“You, yourself would know that with respect to ongoing litigation, that has nothing to do with the cost that would be incurred for the litigation, so it’s unfortunate that we would have an honourable Attorney General, a learned man of the courts, come up here and try to present a legal argument about ongoing litigation to this House, as if the Honourable Speaker would not appreciate the difference and understand that this is just a stalling tactic to answer a question that’s reasonably put by the Opposition for members of the public to have answered.”
Speaker Randy Horton said, “In relation to this letter, I think certainly that there’s no need for any indication of specifically maybe what monies are spent for, but I think it’s important for the House to know… the amounts of money that are being spent. So at some point, AG, if you could find a way…
“If you would be able to inform the House of the expenses incurred, maybe you don’t have to get into details about exactly what they are for, but certainly any monies that have been spent, it’s important for members to know.”
Attorney General Trevor Moniz said, “Perhaps we can have an offline discussion about it, so I would be able to address the matter more fully next week.”
Speaker Randy Horton said, “I will listen to both sides on that. My position is that we should, I should be able to provide the information to the House so when we return to the House on Monday, it can be in that position.”
Deputy PLP Leader Walter Roban said, “Mr. Speaker, may I ask a question related to this matter, or is your ruling…”
Speaker Randy Horton said, “I think we will just leave it until we sort this matter out, and then come back and deal with it on Monday.”
Asking a second Parliamentary Question, Shadow Attorney General Michael Scott said, “Will the Honorable Attorney General please inform this Honourable House; what is the rationale for engaging a public relations firm to handle the particulars of the Bermuda Government vs. Lahey Clinic Civil suit, and what is the cost of this consultancy?”
Attorney General Trevor Moniz said, “Cooley LLP have engaged the services of media consultants to handle the media inquires that they correctly anticipated would arise from the Lahey complaint on behalf of counsel, so as to not distract from the counsel’s litigation of the matter and my duties as Attorney General.
“This is especially required given that Lahey has an entire media relations department which has been engaged to deal with this matter. So it just seemed to make good sense.”
MP Jamahl Simmons said, “With the company in question, history of being a political based organization, specialized in political strategy including consulting, would the Honourable Member explain to the House, why not a traditional company was hired to operate in this matter.”
Attorney General Trevor Moniz said, “As I explained to the members, it was Cooley who hired the firm, not myself, so it wasn’t something that I picked, or looked at a list. They said they would like to hire a media consultant, you know, that was approved.”