Manslaughter suspect Samuel Kong Liong was denied a bid Tuesday for a judge to order the province to pay for him to have the lawyer of his choice.
Provincial court Judge Susan Pepper said Liong had not exhausted his search through Legal Aid to find counsel willing to act for him on the funding agency‘s current tariffs.
Lawyer Kelsey Sitar, who acts for the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in Calgary, had asked Pepper to order the province to pay defense counsel Rebecca Snukal at an enhanced rate to represent him on two sets of charges.
Sitar argued Lion couldn’t find a competent lawyer in the province to represent him at Legal Aid rates because of an ongoing job action by senior counsel refusing to take client certificates from the body.
She said while two lawyers have indicated an interest in possibly taking on Liong’s file, the accused isn’t confident in their ability to represent him, nor has he developed a trust with them.
But Pepper said trust is something that can’t be built up, or even lost.
“Counsel points out that this is an important part of a lawyer/client relationship,” the judge said.
“While I accept that this is undoubtedly true, it cannot be the basis of an application for state-funded counsel. It would be very easy for an accused person to have trust in a few select lawyers,” Pepper said.
“If once the relationship has begun trust cannot be established, or it breaks down, this is a different issue.”
She said the onus was on Liong to establish that he couldn’t find a competent lawyer in Alberta to take his case at Legal Aid rates.
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“I found that Mr. Liong has not met the high burden of establishing that he cannot have a fair trial without Ms. Snukal as counsel. Mr. Liong needs to instruct Legal Aid to continue searching for a competent lawyer to take his case,” Pepper said.
But the judge said that if that can’t be accomplished, she will be willing to reopen the application for state-funded counsel.
“If, however, Legal Aid is unable to secure a competent lawyer in a timely manner, this application can be renewed. It is clear thatMr. Liong needs a lawyer of some experience to represent him.”
Lion is charged with manslaughter in connection with the July 24, 2021, death of Mayiel Deng Kiir.
He also faces a separate set of charges, including robbery and kidnapping allegations, set for trial in February.
The case returns before Pepper on Jan. 11 to determine if Liong has found a lawyer willing to work under Legal Aid tariffs.
On Twitter: @KMartinCourts
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