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Nova Scotia judge declines to set hourly rates, prep time for Desmond inquiry


HALIFAX – The head of an inquiry into the death an Afghan war veteran who killed his family and himself more than two years ago is declining to recommend enhanced billing guidelines for lawyers appearing before the inquiry.

The ruling from Nova Scotia Provincial Court Judge Warren Zimmer comes after Adam Rodgers, who represents the family of former soldier Lionel Desmond and his estate, argued the province’s Justice Department imposed unrealistic restrictions on legal fees and preparation time.

In an application to Zimmer, Rodgers asked that the limits be increased to 10 hours a day at $250 an hour, with no restriction on total preparation time.

However, in a written ruling dated June 13, Zimmer, the inquiry commissioner, said he doesn’t have the authority to deal with Rodgers request.

“In my view, part of what Mr. Rodgers is asking me to do at this time oversteps my judicial authority and I decline to recommend a particular hourly rate or the number of billable hours in a day or preparation time limits,” he wrote.

Zimmer said he could be consulted though, and suggested the sides meet to discuss a dispute resolution mechanism to deal with unresolved billing issues. Zimmer noted that the government has committed to provide funding to the representatives of the deceased for the inquiry.

“It would be strange indeed if the government partway through the inquiry determined that no additional preparation time was to be permitted and thereby, effectively eliminate counsel from further participation expect on a pro bono basis which in my view would be unreasonable,” he wrote.

The inquiry opened briefly last month before adjourning and is expected to begin hearing testimony when it resumes in September in Guysborough, N.S.

The province promised an inquiry in December 2017, almost a year after Desmond fatally shot his mother Brenda, wife Shanna and 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah, before turning the gun on himself in the family’s rural home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

The 33-year-old former soldier was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after two harrowing tours in Afghanistan in 2007.

Rodgers sought an order from Zimmer to increase the hourly billing rate by $30, from the current $220 per hour. The Nova Scotia Justice Department issued a statement last month saying the current funding limit represented a $70-per-hour increase over the rate used when the province held its last fatality inquiry in 2010.

Rodgers could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.