Supreme Court of Canada Refuses to Hear Appeal Where Counsel Argue "Gonzo Logic"Galati v. Harper, 2016 FCA 39 (CanLII)
While President Trump's opponents are having a large-scale melt-down over his recent appointments, perhaps the most consequential of these appointments is his nomination of Justice Neil Grosuch to replace the late Justice Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.
But lest you think that Canada's judicial appointments lack the intensity and angst of our American friends, you need only refer back to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's appointment of Federal Court of Appeal Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013.
You may also recall that Ontario lawyer, Rocco Galati, challenged Mr. Harper's appointment by filing a lawsuit against Mr. Harper, the Governor-General, Justice Nadon, the Attorney-General, and the Minister of Justice, which undoubtedly prompted the government's prompt action to have the Supreme Court of Canada issue a ruling on Justice Nadon's eligibility for our highest court, this after he had already been appointed.
The argument against his appointment was that Mr. Justice Nadon, as a Federal Court judge, was not qualified to represent Quebec on the Supreme Court of Canada, despite his long tenure as a lawyer in Quebec.
The eventual outcome confirmed Mr. Galati's position that Judge Nadon was not eligible, a surprise to the Harper government who had contrary opinions from two retired Supreme Court of Canada justices and several constitutional experts.
Most of this has been long forgotten by Canadians, but Mr. Galati's 2016 application to the Federal Court of Appeal to be paid $800.00 per hour by Canadian taxpayers for his legal work in bringing this challenge has brought this case back to media scrutiny, particularly in light of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision this week to refuse to hear the case.
Mr. Galati claimed the sum of $51,706.00 and his co-counsel, Paul Slansky, wished to be paid $16,769.00 again at a rate of $800.00 per hour.
Both counsel admitted that this is not the hourly rate they normally charge, but this amount reflects their years at the bar and their expertise, a proposition that was soundly rejected by the Federal Court of Appeal in their Reasons.
The Court found that Mr. Galati's and Mr. Slansky's request for full indemnity for their legal services, called "special costs" was unwarranted for a variety of sensible reasons. For starters, their litigation did not decide the outcome of the Nadon issue, as shortly after they filed their action, the Supreme Court of Canada stepped in, thus ousting their private action. They were not successful litigants.
As well, "special costs"are only awarded when the opposing litigant's behaviour has been egregious, even outrageous. Short of that, a costs tariff comes into play, a tariff that is far from reimbursement for all legal costs. Additionally, Mr. Galati and his colleague were representing themselves and were actually in-person litigants, not entitled to costs.
The Federal Court also remarked that experienced counsel would know that if costs were to be awarded, the tariff rules would govern. But the court's ire was raised in response to Mr. Galati's argument that the constitution supported his request for special costs and that to deny his claim was to be evidence that the Federal Court was "in bed" with the federal government. To this audacious statement the court replied:
"It is therefore unnecessary for me to deal with the argument as to constitutional entitlement as it does not arise on these facts. That said, it sometimes occurs that a party makes an argument that is so scandalous that it deserves to be condemned, whether it arises on the facts of the case or not. This is such a case."
The Court found that Mr. Galati's allegation of collusion between the court and the government was "reminiscent of the Gonzo logic of the Vietnam War era, where entire villages were destroyed to save them from the enemy...this argument deserves to be condemned without reservation."
Regrettably, it is cases like this that lower the reputation of lawyers to right-thinking members of the Canadian public. But "gonzo" aptly describes arguments that are "weird, eccentric and crazy".