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Basi-Virk defence wants judge to stay on

VANCOUVER - Defence lawyers for three former B.C. Liberal government aides facing corruption charges related to the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail told a B.C. Supreme Court judge Tuesday they want her to hear the trial despite her promotion to a higher court.

But Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino made it clear that he wants a new trial judge appointed to replace Justice Elizabeth Bennett as soon as possible, setting up a difficult decision for either Bennett or her superiors.

Bennett’s appointment to the B.C. Court of Appeal was announced on May 15 but she has stated she will finish off some pre-trial disclosure applications in the case.

Michael Bolton, representing former B.C.Liberal ministerial aide David Basi, told Bennett in court that the defence will request that she stay on as the trial judge.

“I just want to be clear – we will be making an application that you continue to be the trial judge – it’s rather unprecedented,” Bolton said. “We’re concerned about the amount of time that’s gone into presenting evidence on our applications.”

But Berardino disagreed.

“The Crown’s position is that a new judge should be appointed. Bifurcating the process is a prescription for delay,” he said, adding that the rules of the court give Bennett the discretion to decide to continue or to not make that decision herself.

Bennett acknowledged the dilemma she faces after more than 100 days of pre-trial hearings on complex issues over three and a half years in a case where more than 300,000 pages of evidence have been disclosed.

“The problem is I’m the only person who knows best how to proceed,” she said. “Matters that I am seized off – if I walked away that would delay a trial considerably and I’m not prepared to do that.”

Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm will meet with all parties June 4 in a pre-trial conference to discuss the case.

Bennett also told the court she guesses that the Supreme Court of Canada will not make a critical ruling on Special Prosecutor’s appeal on the issue of secret witness testimony until the end of October, a decision which could possibly mean the case does not proceed.

“I don’t think you’re going to get a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada till the end of October – I’m just guessing,” she said.

Pre-trial hearings will resume on Thursday May 28 at 10 a.m.

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog at

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