Lawyers slammed for wasting time
TORONTO — Billionaire Six Nations businessman Kenneth Hill may have cash to burn, but an outspoken judge has slammed his team of expensive lawyers for clogging up an already backlogged family court as part of their “hidden agenda” to win the case.
“Our overburdened court system can’t – and shouldn’t – waste scarce resources on a needless motion, to the detriment of other families who desperately need court time to decide real issues,” wrote Ontario Superior Court Justice Alex Pazaratz in a scathing ruling last week.
Hill, 59, has been in a yearslong battle with Brittany Beaver, the mother of his nine-year-old son, and is challenging the court order to pay her $33,183 a month in interim child support based on his 2015 income of $2,108,500 – non-taxable due to his Indian status and his company’s location on Six Nations.
Hill is co-founder and partner at Grand River Enterprises, a tobacco manufacturer with annual sales of more than $300 million and reputedly the largest private Indigenous-owned business in the world.
The cigarette magnate met Beaver, then 22, in September 2008 while she was working with corporate promotions at GRE. She claims they lived together for about a year and had a baby on Aug. 24, 2009.
They continued their romantic sexual relationship — while living apart — with expensive trips to Las Vegas and Costa Rica and extravagant shopping sprees in New York and Toronto.
It all ended in November 2013 during a tumultuous vacation in the Bahamas. They’ve been fighting over money ever since.
In addition to child support, Beaver wants $85,701 a month in spousal support. Hill claims their relationship was purely sexual and she was never his spouse in any way.
Their ongoing battle has been in the headlines as Hill contends his aboriginal status should exempt him from Ontario’s Family Law Act and the matter should be decided according to Haudenosaunee law.
While a lower court shut him down, the appeal court has given him another chance to pursue his argument.
In the meantime, his legal team was back in court asking Pazaratz to make a ruling barring Justice James Sloan from presiding on any future hearings – even though the Kitchener judge who had made some past temporary orders isn’t expected to have further dealings with the dispute now that Pazaratz is case managing the complex file.
The judge suggested they adjourn their motion and bring it back if and when Sloan is assigned to their case.
“A motion seeking his recusal is not only premature – it’s pointless and purely hypothetical,” he said.
Hill’s lawyers insisted on a decision now, just in case.
Pazaratz’s impatience was palpable.
“When you give a team of very talented and expensive lawyers a blank cheque to dredge up every conceivable argument and motion you can think of, this is what happens,” wrote the exasperated judge.
“It’s not just financially wasteful; it’s gamesmanship which precludes honest settlement discussion.
“Whether you call it oppression or a war of attrition – it’s basically one side trying to avoid the real issues, by creating as many legal hurdles as possible.”
The witty, no-nonsense judge has frequently issued rulings from the family court bench lambasting those who waste valuable judicial resources: he’s criticized Legal Aid for the “obscene expenditure of tax money” on a straight-forward divorce case and blasted a warring couple for squandering $500,000 in their bitter child custody dispute.
In this latest case, Pazaratz concluded the reason Hill’s legal team is pushing for a recusal ruling is tactical: by getting Sloan to step aside from any future decisions, they could then challenge all his past ones – especially those that went against their client.
“If it sounds like there’s some sort of hidden agenda here, it’s because there is a hidden agenda,” the judge said. He dismissed their motion. “The bottom line,” Pazaratz said, “is that this court has an obligation to be sensible, even if the parties and lawyers aren’t.”
When you give a team of very talented and expensive lawyers a blank cheque to dredge up every conceivable argument and motion you can think of, this is what happens.” Superior Court Justice Alex Pazaratz
Six Nations businessman Ken Hill (left) is accompanied by supporters for a court hearing in Toronto last September.