What price jus­tice?

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial -

Ev­ery­one may de­serve their day in court.

But can they af­ford it? That’s an­other ques­tion en­tirely — and it’s one, by the way, that can be turned into a weapon, if your pock­ets and your spite run deep enough.

Here’s a lit­tle cau­tion­ary tale from On­tario; the case may not mat­ter much here, but the num­bers sure do.

The case, a class-ac­tion law­suit, ended up in­volv­ing the Liquor Con­trol Board of On­tario, the beer-sales arm of three brew­eries, Brew­ers Re­tail, and the brew­ers them­selves: La­batt, Mol­son and Slee­man Brew­eries.

The law­suit was ask­ing for a whop­ping $1.4 bil­lion in dam­ages, say­ing that beer drinkers and the food and bev­er­age in­dus­try had been un­justly charged ex­tra for beer since 2000.

The case was tossed out af­ter just four days in court.

But that doesn’t mean it was in any way cheap: the group that launched the suit es­ti­mated its costs for the four days in court, in­clud­ing prepa­ra­tions, at $1.8 mil­lion.

Mean­while, the brew­ers, Brew­ers Re­tail and the LCBO spent con­sid­er­ably more; those five, com­bined, spent more than $6.5 mil­lion.

Since they were suc­cess­ful in de­fend­ing the case, the brew­ers and their co-defendants were able to re­claim some of their court costs.

Judge Paul Perell — who in the past has said of class-ac­tion law­suits that, “like a for­est fire in this era of cli­mate change, costs in class pro­ceed­ings have got­ten out of con­trol” — awarded costs to the defendants to­talling close to $2.2 mil­lion.

The group try­ing to launch the class ac­tion ar­gued they shouldn’t have to pay costs at that level, be­cause the case was rel­a­tively straight­for­ward and in the pub­lic in­ter­est. The judge dis­agreed, say­ing, “Maybe on Jupiter a 14,000page record as­sem­bled for the court (from the who knows how large a data­base ex­am­ined for rel­e­vancy by the defendants) is ‘mod­est,’ but it is not mod­est on planet Earth.”

As to the pub­lic in­ter­est claim? “In my opin­ion, the case at bar, the case at bar was com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion to re­lo­cate $3 bil­lion of money be­long­ing to the tax­pay­ers of this prov­ince to a sub­set of Class Coun­sel and Class Mem­ber tax­pay­ers who al­legedly paid too much for beer as a re­sult of a gov­ern­ment pol­icy that had been in ex­is­tence for decades.”

Now, it might be an out­lier, with big clients, huge amounts of money at stake and ev­ery­thing else.

It also may be the sub­ject of fur­ther le­gal ac­tion.

But the sheer size of the le­gal spend­ing in­volved in the case is stag­ger­ing — for ev­ery­one in­volved, over $8.3 mil­lion in le­gal work, cul­mi­nat­ing in a mere four days of court ac­tion.

There are win­ners in the whole case some­where, but out­side of the le­gal pro­fes­sion, it’s hard to see just where.

Maybe that’s why the courts are, more and more, the ex­clu­sive pre­serve of those with deep pock­ets.

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