OTTAWA — The Mike Duffy fraud trial ended its third week of testimony with an aggressive grilling of a top Senate official, bickering lawyers, an exasperated judge, and no end in sight.
By late Friday, Duffy’s lawyer, Don Bayne signalled he would need three to six more weeks of trial time on top the seven weeks already scheduled.
“I’m wide open to do this September, October, November, December,” Bayne said.
But neither of the two prosecutors, who start separate months-long murder trials in September, is available then.
The expense fraud trial of another senator, Mac Harb, is scheduled to start in August. It involves the lead Duffy case investigator, RCMP Sgt. Greg Horton. The judge said they’ll all have to work through court administration to co-ordinate something, and expressed frustration that three weeks in, only the “broad brushstrokes” of the case against Duffy had been made.
So the Duffy trial now appears certain to run past the next federal election campaign with no resolution before voters are expected to judge for themselves the question of whether Duffy’s actions were criminal or whether, as the Conservative appointee claims, he was given the green-light by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Conservative Senate leadership to operate as he did.
Duffy says it was only when his travel and living expenses became a political embarrassment that his erstwhile political allies made him a scapegoat. He has promised “the real story” is yet to come.
The political drama is merely a backdrop to the Duffy trial, however. After three weeks of a deep dive into Senate rules, documents and Duffy’s senate expense paperwork, the legal drama took on an edge.
Judge Charles Vaillancourt grew testy Friday morning after bickering between the prosecutors and Bayne over Crown attempts to have Proulx — the Senate’s top corporate administrative officer — give an opinion on whether Senate rules allowed a senator to claim expenses for travel to give a speech that he was being paid for separately by the private association that invited him.
Bayne objected, as he has repeatedly, to allowing Proulx’s views as evidence, saying she is not a legal expert. Bayne said it is solely up to the judge to determine what the rules allow.
“Let’s say a senator has someone cut their lawn or mow their lawn,” said assistant Crown attorney Jason Neubauer. “Just because there is nothing there that says you can’t bill the Senate for private landscaping, does that mean they can? Of course not.”
“That’s the whole point — whether there were any rules at all,” the judge replied tersely. “I hope you have something more substantial than what appears on the platter right now.”
When Neubauer expressed concern whether Vaillancourt had already made up his mind about the non-existence of travel rules even before he’d heard the evidence, the judge lost patience.
“At this point in the trial I’m just beginning to see the broad brushstrokes . . . I’ve got a long way to go before the determination of facts but I would like to start hearing some evidence,” he said.
By the end of the day, Proulx’s testimony was consistent and damning for Duffy. She believed Senate administrative rules do not allow senators to spend Senate money on travel to give speeches for which a senator is remunerated by a private source; nor for travel to medical appointments or for specialist care; nor for funerals of a friend or family member.
She described them all as personal business, not “Senate-related.”