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Surrey council hikes lawyer fee caps related to Code of Conduct complaints

Lawyer fee caps will rise to $550/hr from $400 for council members defending themselves against complaints lodged under Council Code of Conduct
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Surrey city council voted Monday to increase lawyer fee caps to $550 per hour before taxes from $400 for council members who defend themselves against complaints lodged under the Council Code of Conduct.

That was the recommendation of a staff corporate report before council which notes Section 89 of the code states the city will pay for the” reasonably incurred legal fees of a council member who is subject to a complaint under the Code of Conduct” as long as the ethics commissioner doesn’t find the council member acted “with dishonesty, gross negligence, or malicious or willful misconduct.”

The report notes that because lawyer fees have increased with inflation city staff propose that the policy “should be revised to better reflect current market conditions.

“Staff also propose to review this matter on a periodic basis to ensure the presumptive maximum hourly rate is fair given market conditions,” the report adds.

READ ALSO: Surrey taxpayers paid $316K to law firm that defended McCallum in public mischief case

The policy notes that a council member defending themself against a complaint must consult with the City of Surrey’s risk manager before retaining a lawyer.

“Although council members have the discretion to retain a legal counsel of their choice, staff must confirm that the lawyer’s rates are reasonable based on the nature of the complaint before the council member is entitled to have legal fees paid,” the report reads.

If the ethics commissioner finds that the lawyer’s actions result in “unnecessarily and excessively raised costs for the proceedings, the commissioner may recommend that “a portion of the fees not be paid” and the city would then withhold payment unless council resolves otherwise.

Moreover, if the ethics commissioner decides the council member “acted with dishonesty, gross negligence, or malicious or willful misconduct, then the council member will reimburse the city for the legal fees already paid by the city, and the council member will not have their legal fees relating to the complaint paid on a going‐forward basis by the city” unless council decides to waive such repayments by the politician “and/or to continue such payments for legal fees.”

Also, the city will only pay the legal fees in relation to responding to a complaint under the Code of Conduct, not in pursuit of one.

Council adopted the Code of Conduct on May 4, 2020.

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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