Legislature CFO under cross-examination at ex-clerk’s corruption trial
The former clerk of the B.C. Legislature is expected to decide Feb. 22 whether to testify at his fraud and breach of trust trial.
Craig James pleaded not guilty of five counts when the trial opened Jan. 24. Two more weeks are scheduled in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver before Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes. The final witness, Legislature chief financial officer Hillary Woodward, is expected to finish testimony on the morning after the Family Day holiday.
Woodward testified Feb. 18 about approving the expense claims submitted by James, who was the equivalent of CEO from 2011 to 2018. Special prosecutors David Butcher and Brock Martland have built a case around James’s spending of taxpayers’ money to buy souvenirs, clothing, jewelry and suitcases for himself, as well as a wood splitter that he stored at his house.
Woodward testified that she was “put in an untenable situation” to be asked to sign-off James’s expenses.
She said she expressed her concerns about James’s post-trip expense claims, first to Arn van Iersel, the former auditor general who was a consultant to the Legislative Assembly, and then to Speaker Linda Reid.
“I would say that was the most challenging portion of my job was dealing with the travel claims and expenses that came through,” Woodward said.
During cross-examination, James’s lawyer Gavin Cameron questioned Woodward about her relationship with Reid and James. She admitted she once visited Reid at her constituency office at Reid’s request.
“And, as I understand it, your understanding of the situation is that Miss Reid was no friend and Mr. James and she didn’t care for him too much,” Cameron said. “That’s fair?
“I can’t comment on her feelings on Mr. James, the clerk,” Woodward said.
She later agreed with Cameron that Reid “was no fan of Mr. James.”
Cameron also noted an internal email from Woodward to the director of human resources at the Legislature, the day after Speaker Darryl Plecas’s January 2019 report accusing James of corruption. Woodward asked that her car allowance be removed from her benefits package, retroactive to Dec. 24, 2018.
“You were concerned that you were going to be next, if you didn’t start taking steps to get rid of some of the benefits that Speaker Plecas was railing against?” Cameron asked.
Woodward denied that, but said several officials canceled their car allowance, including Plecas.
“Because you were worried you were going to be next. If you didn’t fall in line, you were either with him or against him,” Cameron charged.
“No, I don’t agree with that,” Woodward answered.
Cameron finished the Feb. 18 hearing by prodding Woodward about her late disclosure of documents to the special prosecutors — “in dribs and drabs” last week, and in a suitcase this week.
“You want to be ready for your testimony, make sure you had the kitchen sink of everything, which I stayed up and read,” Cameron said.
Woodward replied: “That’s correct.”
Cameron said he saw almost no evidence among thousands of pages that Woodward documented her concerns about James’s expenses.
“Would you agree with me that those three emails are the extent of the paper you have documenting any issue at all the five years of expenses that you testified about over the past day and a half?
“Yep,” she said.
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