Alberta’s legal aid fee is insufficient to hire a competent lawyer for a homicide suspect, the court said Monday.
Defense lawyer Kelsey Sitar, representing the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association of Calgary, said provincial court judge Susan Pepper should order the province to pay for senior counsel to represent Samuel Kong Liong.
Sitar said Liong was unable to find a suitable replacement for his former attorney, Steve Wojick, who parted ways with the accused killer in October.
She said Liong’s choice of new counsel, Rebecca Snukal, indicated she would not take the file at the current Legal Aid rate and other lawyers he approached indicated the same.
Criminal lawyers in Alberta are involved in an ongoing industrial action where they are refusing to accept Legal Aid certificates due to insufficient pay.
Pepper asked Friesenhan to address that particular issue.
“What do you make of your friend’s argument that trust is an element of competence?” asked the judge.
“I think it’s fair to say that any client should have a relationship of trust and working relationship with any attorney or attorney they’re going to retain for their case,” Friesenhan said.
“However, I think that trust is something that can be dealt with,” she said, arguing that Liong did not give those lawyers the opportunity to build that trust.
She also noted that Liong instructed Legal Aid not to seek other counsel to represent him once the CDLA determined that it would make an application to have Snukal pay an increased rate.
“They couldn’t even try to get someone,” Friesenhan said of Legal Aid’s position since Liong indicated on Nov. 23 he didn’t want them to find him another attorney.
Liong is charged with manslaughter in connection with the July 24, 2021, death Mayiel Deng Kiir.
Crown prosecutor Tom Buglas said while the case was not a complicated one, it was one that required a lawyer to deal with certain issues.
“This is not a case that I can say to the court ‘let’s set a trial date with or without counsel’,” he told Pepper.
The judge will rule on the issue on Tuesday.
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