The Ontario government spent more than $23.4 million on outside lawyers and consultants in suing numerous parties over alleged corruption at its real estate arm, but netted only about $3.5 million plus interest after a recent trial.
In what critics call a glaring lack of oversight and a gross waste of taxpayer money from 2000 to 2008, the government eventually took control of the civil case from an outside legal firm acting on its behalf in late 2007.
“There was clearly no one minding the store here,” said Peter Greene, a veteran litigator who represented several key defendants for the first six years of the case. “A civil case is all about seeking payment of damages as a consequence of alleged wrongdoing. No one was balancing the costs and the likelihood of recouping them in damages.”
But “sometimes, it costs a little more to defend your good name,” said Amy Tang, press secretary for deputy premier George Smitherman, who is also the Minister for Energy and Infrastructure.
“Ontario’s good name was preserved,” she said, when the government took lengthy legal action for alleged fraud, bid rigging, kickbacks and breach of trust at Ontario Realty Corp. “That’s not measurable in lawyer’s fees.”
Spending details obtained by the Toronto Star after the government fought to keep them secret show WeirFoulds LLP, a prominent Bay Street law firm, alone accounted for $12,134,091.91 or more than half of the bill even though it didn’t prosecute the case at trial last fall.
That works out to an average of $29,168.49 for the firm every week for eight years.
The case originated in the late 1990s after serious questions surfaced about selling and operational practices at Ontario Realty, which manages the province’s real estate assets.