THE Law Society of British Columbia is looking into allegations that two West Vancouver men who aren't lawyers were paid almost $100,000 for legal services.
The Law Society has launched an investigation into payments made by former owners of the Capilano Mobile Park to Klatle-Bhi, a relative of the owners who represented them in several losing court battles with the Squamish Nation.
The law society opened its investigation after Justice Edward Chiasson of the B.C. Court of Appeal raised concerns about the legal representation in a decision last Friday that tossed out an appeal of the case.
Chiasson noted several times in the decision that the case had been hampered by the decision of the Baker family that owned the RV park to be represented by Klatle-Bhi, a nephew of the owners and Squamish Nation artist who is not a lawyer.
Chiasson said the owners' decision to "involve and to continue to involve Klatle-Bhi caused their interests to be compromised, hampered the ability of the court to address the real issues between the parties and increased significantly the costs of these proceedings for the (Squamish Nation Band)."
More significantly, Chiasson wrote that when a judge asked Klatle-Bhi if he was being paid to speak in court, he indicated he wasn't. "I'm actually under Indian law so when my elders tell me to represent them, I am here under Indian law today," he said at the time.
Yet Chiasson wrote the Squamish Nation had indicated financial records of the RV park "appeared to show a total of $95,000 in professional fees paid to Klatle-Bhi and an associate." The second man - also not a lawyer - had also appeared in court with Klatle-Bhi, speaking on behalf of the Baker family.
It is so far not clear what services the money was paid for. But the entry caught Chiasson's attention.
"In my view, this is a matter that merits the attention of the Law Society of British Columbia," wrote the judge.
The Law Society is now looking into case, said Lesley Pritchard, spokeswoman for the society.
Under the Legal Profession Act, only lawyers - who are subject to regulation as well as ethical and educational standards - can charge money for legal assistance. People who are not lawyers are allowed to help in court but are not allowed to charge money.
Pritchard said the rules are meant to protect the administration of justice, as well as prevent clients from being preyed upon by unqualified people when their legal rights are at stake.
"There is an element of educating the public about who you hire and who you pay money to," she said.
In the case of the Capilano Mobile Park, Chiasson made it clear the former owners harmed their own interests by being represented by Klatle-Bhi, describing at least one of his responses to a letter from the Squamish Nation's lawyer as "incomprehensible."
By the time their case was before the B.C. Court of Appeal the former mobile park owners admitted "they were in error in allowing Klatle-Bhi to represent them," the judge noted.
On Friday, the three-member appeal court panel tossed out the Baker family's appeal of the case, upholding a 2011 B.C. Supreme Court decision that awarded damages to the band of almost $500,000 after the mobile park owners refused to sign a new lease agreement and stopped paying rent to the band.
In simple terms, the former owners "decided not to pay a licence fee for the use and occupation of the (Squamish Nation's) land but continued to operate their business on the land. When sued by the (band), the family chose to be represented by a non-lawyer who advanced no positions relevant to the issues before the court," wrote Chiasson.
Members of the Baker family operated the mobile park for 50 years, but refused to sign a new five-year lease when the last lease ran out in 2008.
Eventually they also stopped paying rent to the band, arguing that the land had been granted to their family by then-chief Joe Capilano under a verbal contract.
"Aboriginal law supersedes all their paper law," said Klatle-Bhi at the time.
The courts, however, didn't agree.
The band has indicated it eventually intends to develop the land.
Calls to Klatle-Bhi were not returned by press time.
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