Miltenberger wins costs
Petitioners waiting to find out how much they must pay

by Cheryl Leschasin
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 01/97) - Fifty-five petitioners in the Thebacha election case will find out later this month how much it will cost them.

The NWT Supreme Court ruled Aug. 18 that MLA Michael Miltenberger shouldn't have to pay all his legal bills for defending his seat.

Miltenberger said last week that the lawyers were still going over all the scales, rates and tax issues to determine exactly how much the petitioners and Canada's chief electoral officer owe, but it could be in the neighborhood of $80,000 to $100,000.

Fighting the case cost Miltenberger $160,000, and he hopes to get about half of that from the petitioners and Elections Canada. Exactly what they will have to pay and how it will be divided among the 55 petitioners is uncertain.

Justice John Vertes ruled that Miltenberger will only be reimbursed for court costs, not his lawyer's bills.

"In this case I have concluded that it would be inappropriate to award solicitor-and-client costs," Justice John Vertes ruled.

"I anticipate if there is a recovery of 80 to 100,000, we'll be extremely fortunate," Miltenberger said.

Vertes divided the costs to be paid between the petitioners and Canada's chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who acted as intervenor.

"I think it is appropriate to divide responsibility for the respondent's costs: to the petitioners for the period from commencement of the petition to the time when the proceedings were effectively taken over by the CEO and to the CEO after," said Vertes in his judgment.

The petitioners will be responsible for court costs from the beginning of the case -- late November 1995 -- to February of 1996. The CEO is responsible for costs from June 1996 to the end of the trial.

Neither petitioner nor intervenor will be responsible for any costs from March 1996 to May 1996.

Miltenberger's lawyer, John Bayly, said actual dollar figures would not be available until all costs have been accounted for, tabulated and accepted by the petitioners.

"I've done a partial run-through, but I don't know what it is yet," said Bayly, who is currently working on tabulating the CEO's costs.

The 55 petitioners challenged the validity of the 1995 election, noting Miltenberger had only 36 more votes than the incumbent, Jeannie Marie-Jewell.

The month following the October election, the 55 voters asked the court to declare the election invalid and order a new vote. The issue was whether 36 invalid votes were cast.

Vertes ruled in March 1997 that there were no allegations or suggestions of illegal or corrupt activities by any candidate, nor were there any suggestions of improprieties or negligence by election officials.

Only the issue of costs was left to be decided from that case.

The legislative assembly assisted Miltenberger by giving him $100,000 for legal costs on the condition that awarded costs up to the amount of the loan would be returned to the assembly.

Because any costs awarded will go directly to the legislative assembly, Miltenberger anticipates he may be out of pocket up to $80,000. "It's my bill, so I have to wait and see what the numbers are."