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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Taser's allegations against lawyer, doctor were 'scandalous'

May 4, 2010
By Lori Culbert and Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has roundly rejected attempts by Taser International to discredit a lawyer and a medical expert who participated in the Braidwood inquiry into the use of the controversial weapons in this province.

In a written ruling released Monday, Justice Robert Sewell said allegations of bias and dishonesty against lawyer Art Vertlieb and Dr. Keith Chambers were "unnecessary, scandalous and vexatious," and ordered the company that manufactures Tasers to pay their legal costs.

However, the Arizona-based company also achieved a victory in the ruling, as Sewell gave it the go-ahead to pursue its legal challenge of the commission's damning report into the conducted-energy weapons.

Sewell rejected as premature an attempt by B.C.'s attorney-general to throw out Taser International's application for a judicial review into the report by Commissioner Thomas Braidwood.

Braidwood's inquiry probed the death of Polish traveller Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in October 2007. The RCMP Tasered Dziekanski five times, leading to two commissions: one into the circumstances of his death and the other into the use of conducted-energy weapons by police officers.

Braidwood issued the commission's findings in June 2009 and concluded that Tasers, in some circumstances, could cause death or severe injury. He also set out recommendations for Taser use, which have now been adopted by peace officers in B.C.

Taser International sought the judicial review, to be held over three days in July, to try to get these findings quashed.

The company also asked for declarations that Vertlieb, the commission's counsel, and Chambers, a medical consultant, were guilty of "dereliction of duty" that led to a "reasonable apprehension of bias" against Taser. The company further alleged that Chambers was guilty of "dereliction of duty to be honest."

Sewell ruled the July hearing will not include the accusations against Vertlieb and Chambers, who only provided assistance in collecting or collating documents for Braidwood and made no submissions or findings themselves.

"I have concluded that the declarations sought against Mr. Vertlieb and Dr. Chambers do constitute an abuse of process. I consider that the allegations made against them are unnecessary, scandalous and vexatious," Sewell wrote.

"I conclude that the allegations here are motivated at least in part by a desire to embarrass Mr. Vertlieb and Dr. Chambers."

The judge gave Taser International a severe tongue-lashing, ordering it to pay some of Vertlieb's legal bills and all the legal costs for Chambers -- against whom the most serious accusations were levelled.

Of Monday's ruling, Vertlieb said: "The outrageous allegations against Dr. Chambers, falsely accusing him of wrongdoing, I'm glad they've been resolved."

However, Taser International has a right to the judicial review, Sewell wrote, because "it seems to me that the report and recommendations of the Study Commission could have important commercial implications for the [company]."

Sewell hastened to add that he was not making any conclusions one way or the other about this possibility. (Taser International worries that having its weapons declared killers would damage its sales.)

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