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Crowdsourcing funding for a criminal defence unusual but understandable

Canadian Press THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO – A former Ontario premier's aide who is facing charges in connection with the destruction of government documents is using a crowdsourcing website to try to raise $100,000 for her legal defence.

Laura Miller, who was Dalton McGuinty's deputy chief of staff, and former chief of staff David Livingston were charged last month with breach of trust and mischief over the deletion of emails related to the Liberal government's move to cancel two gas plants, at a cost of up to $1.1 billion.

Police alleged in court documents that Livingston and Miller spent $10,000 to hire Miller's partner, Peter Faist, a computer expert who was given a special password by Livingston to wipe clean at least 20 hard drives in the premier's office.

Both Miller and Livingston have denied the charges.

Former deputy Ontario premier Dwight Duncan is among those who have contributed to Miller's defence fund on fundrazr.com, donating $500 ``as reaffirmation of my view that you have been wrongly accused.''

Miller says the once-private fundraising effort was created after friends and family offered to contribute to her legal defence, and was never intended to be a public campaign.

However, Miller says she's ``deeply grateful for the kind notes of encouragement'' and the contributions to her defence fund, which total over $18,000 as of this morning.

Miller went to work for the British Columbia Liberals after McGuinty left office, but she quit her job as executive director of the B.C. party in December when the charges were laid.

Several British Columbia Liberals have also contributed to Miller's defence fund, including provincial party president Sharon White, who donated $2,500.

Both Livingston and Miller are scheduled to make their first court appearances in Toronto Jan. 27.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen says while it is unusual for someone to crowdsource funding to help pay for the defence of criminal charges, there are no legal issues associated with doing it "as long as they are transparent as to what it is for."

Rosen, partner at Rosen Naster LLP, says the move speaks to the fact that Miller wouldn’t likely qualify for legal aid to pay for her defence. 

“This is typical of the average person who is charged with a criminal offence,” he says.

Rosen notes that the political nature of the parties may bring added interest.

“This kind of trial could go on for a long time,” he says. 

Rosen says the case will likely be a complex and expensive one that will involve an in-depth technical analysis of what happened with experts involved.

“The defence will need its own experts to review the Crown’s computer evidence — and that will cost a lot of money,” he says. 

Rosen says this matter highlights the fact that most people don’t appreciate the burden that is placed on defendants in criminal cases.

“It’s a huge burden, depending on the complexity of the case," he says. "A trial is essentially a recreation of a chronology of events with documents, computer data and live witnesses. You are recreating the past and it becomes difficult with a complex case. This matter isn’t a barroom fight. This is a case that will likely involve the recreation of highly technical, complex data to trace it back to see who did what."

Most people would have difficulty funding a defence for that, he says. 

Rosen says the defence money that's needed is after-tax dollars and cannot be claimed as business expenses.

“Big corporations and executives who are involved in misdeeds while employed are often in a position to write-off the legal costs because it’s related to making an income stream. But an individual like this is a public servant — she has nothing to write it off against,” Rosen says.

- With files from AdvocateDaily.com

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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