Vancouver Oblates sue their lawyers

After a court found it was not liable in a sexual abuse case, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate order in Canada's British Columbia province are suing the law firm who successfully defended them - and billed them for over $8 million.

The Globe and Mail reports that the Oblates are challenging over $8 million in legal bills stretching over more than four years, saying its lawyers charged "excessive, unreasonable" fees that violated its retainer agreement with the Vancouver firm of Dohm, Jaffer & Jeraj.

The firm represented the order over nearly a dozen years, providing advice about allegations of physical or sexual abuse against Oblate priests and brothers, according to the statement of defence. As well, the law firm won a Supreme Court case that held the order was not indirectly responsible for the sexual abuse of a native man by a lay employee of the order.

In its statement of claim, the order takes aim at several practices by two of its lawyers, Mobina Jaffer and Azool Jaffer-Jeraj, including:

Ms. Jaffer and Mr Jeraj billing for more than 24 hours in a single day

a bill for more than 22 hours in a single day by Ms Jaffer for reviewing accounts

3,700 hours of billed time by Mr Jeraj, between 1 September, 2003 and 22 March, 2005, which equates to more than 10 hours for every working day during that time.

The Oblates also claim that the hourly rate charged by each lawyer as "unreasonably and unjustifiably" high. Ms Jaffer, who was called to the bar in 1978, charged $450 while her son, Mr Jeraj, charged $200 an hour.

The order paid its legal tab through to 2004, but it has yet to pay $553,351 that was levied in March, 2005.

The order is asking for aggravated and punitive damages, damages for breach of fiduciary duty, delivery of all its legal files, as well as court orders that will allow it to review all legal fees and disbursements.

The claims have yet to be proven in court, and in the statement of defence, the defendants deny virtually all of the allegations, save those that identify the firm and three of its lawyers.

A lower-court judge had ruled that the order was responsible for the abuse of a child at the Christie Residential School on Meares Island. The victim was repeatedly abused over several years by Martin Saxey, whom the order had hired as a baker and handyman.

The order did not know of the assaults, and Mr Saxey, who died in 1986, was not assigned to work with children. The British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned the lower court ruling, and in an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court sided with the appeal court ruling.

The case is to proceed to trial early next year.

Catholic order sues own lawyers after winning case (Globe and Mail, 18/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Oblates of Mary Immaculate
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

19 Jun 2007