County leaning to in-house prosecutor for POA court

SD&G CFO Vanessa Metcalfe explains the advantages of hiring an in-house prosecutor to county council on Monday, June 18, 2018. The county is putting a plan together as the Crown Attorney's office has terminated its prosecution contract while the Ontario government gets ready to download more POA cases on the upper-tier government. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

SD&G – The United Counties is gearing up to put either a lawyer or paralegal on its payroll to prosecute cases before the Provincial Offences Act court.

The county has contracted that service from the Crown Attorney’s office since 2001. But that office told the county in February it’s terminating the contract, even though months before there had been plans to recruit two new municipal prosecutors. The municipal prosecutor, Lynn Riviere, left after 12 years to take a similar position with the City of Ottawa. The Crown Attorney’s office has indicated it will still do cases until the county finds a replacement.

Meanwhile, the Ontario government is downloading more cases to the county in the form of Part 3 offences – the most serious POA charges. They are also expensive to prosecute. In 2016, there were a little less than 3,000 charges and the prosecution of those cases cost $30,000.

“When we were notified (of the download) it was as soon as possible. (Now) we’re kind of in a hold pattern on that download,” CFO Vanessa Bennett told council meeting.

With a bigger caseload coming and no permanent person in the office, the county has two options – have another contract with a person or legal firm or have an in-house municipal prosecutor.

“We looked at those options and the in-house position does shine as more beneficial to SD&G. Cost wise, it’s preferable to hire a paralegal than a lawyer,” Metcalfe told council.

SD&G would have “more control” and “more direction” of an in-house paralegal because that person would answer to county council. The caveat is that the paralegal would still need to be supervised by a lawyer.

A job description for the potential new hire will be coming back at next month’s council meeting and a public expression of interest may be issued before then.

“We’re beating the bushes basically to identify who would be interested before we even take the step of issuing a contract,” Metcalfe explained.

Asked by Coun. Jim Bancroft whether one person would be able to handle the workload, Metcalfe said the contract service right now for Part 1 cases is four days of work, but it would be a full-time five day position with the download of Part 3 cases. “They would run the prosecution from start to finish and do all the paperwork.”

The POA office has handled between 15,000 and 25,000 charges a year.

The POA court is a shared service between the United Counties of SD&G and the City of Cornwall in a 58-42 split.