One of Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown's political adversaries is suggesting he used city funds to cover his personal legal expenses, something his spokesperson denies.
The insinuations are coming from the Nikki Kaur campaign, a rival for the mayor's chair who has pitched herself as the ethical alternative to the scandal-prone incumbent.
The campaign provided QP Briefing with a series of documents showing Brown's lawyer, Howard Winkler, billed more than $180,000 to an insurance brokerage, which was, in turn, paid $213,950.66 by the City of Brampton from 2019 to the end of 2021.
It is not clear from the invoices what exactly the legal services were for.
Winkler, a defamation specialist, represented Brown in his legal disputes with CTV News that unfolded between early 2018 and March 2022, and against his former Progressive Conservative caucus colleague Vic Fedeli, which played out from early 2019 till March 2020.
The director of communications for the mayor's office, Gary Collins, said in an email that insurance provided by JusticeRisk Solutions, the brokerage contracted by the city, was "only" for municipal purposes, and that "litigation outside the municipal domain would be ineligible."
JusticeRisk Solutions is a provider of after-the-event insurance, a specialized type of coverage that offers clients financial protection against costly legal outcomes.
Although municipal council members already had access to city-provided legal protection, Brampton's council agreed to sign a deal with JusticeRisk Solutions to "protect the mayor and members of council from the expense of certain legal and other services" in June 2019.
The company billed the city $270,352.50 from August 2019 to April 2022, at an $8,192.50/month rate, invoices show. Over the same timeframe (excluding May 2020), Winkler charged JusticeRisk Solutions $5,650/month, for a total of $180,800, the documents show.
Brown's and the city councillors' expenses disclosures from 2019 to 2021 show JusticeRisk Solutions was paid $213,950.66 — which would be $8,228.87/month, on average, if payments started in August, as the invoices suggest.
Beginning in August 2019, Winkler's bills to JusticeRisk Solutions were titled "City of Brampton re: Patrick Brown" and were for a "retainer agreement" for "professional services related to reputational protection and general legal advice."
The 65 pages of invoices given to QP Briefing by Kaur's campaign were confirmed as authentic by three Brampton councillors, including Jeff Bowman and two others who were promised anonymity. The documents were presented to council in a private meeting earlier this year, leading councillors to vote to cancel the agreement this summer.
The idea that councillors should obtain the specialized legal insurance was first brought up at a closed-door council meeting around March 2019, five months after the 2018 municipal elections, Bowman said.
Although contracting external legal services isn't mentioned in council meeting agendas or minutes from around that time, it's not unusual for it not to be, as closed-session plans and decisions don't tend to be described in published documents in much detail.
Bowman, a vocal critic of Brown who isn't seeking re-election to Brampton's council after two terms, and another councillor who was granted anonymity said it was the mayor who first proposed the idea.
Bowman said he trusted the mayor's opinion about it when the idea was brought up since Brown himself is a lawyer. The legacy of the long legal battle between the city and a developer — which forced multiple former councillors and city staff to testify in court ahead of the January 2019 decision — was also fresh in councillors' minds at the time, Bowman said.
"For me, anyway, I think it was a case of naiveté," Bowman said. "I thought maybe since we've seen all this court action, maybe we do need something other than directors and officers (insurance), especially if somebody's suing us personally — and that was the way it was put to us."
Bowman said he was "pretty sure" the agreement with JusticeRisk Solutions was sole-sourced.
Brown moved a motion, seconded by Coun. Rowena Santos, on June 24, 2020, to extend the agreement with JusticeRisk Solutions until Dec. 31, 2022, which council approved.
It was only after a couple of Brampton councillors tried to access legal services through JusticeRisk Solutions, which they then realized didn't provide direct comprehensive legal services, that the contract came into question again at the council table, Bowman and another councillor said.
Councillors then demanded to see all invoices to do with the agreement, leading them to realize JusticeRisk Solutions was paying Winkler each month.
Council was never able to find out much else about the deal, including how many members ever used JusticeRisk Solutions' or Winkler's services, said Bowman and another councillor.
Collins, the mayor's spokesperson, said Brown and "nine out of 10 councillors have utilized the legal insurance on a variety of municipal matters."
Bowman and another councillor each said they weren't sure who utilized the insurance, or Winkler's services, with any significant frequency, aside from Brown.
"Mayor Brown and council have only used legal insurance for municipal purposes," wrote Gary Collins. "All members of council voted to have legal insurance available. Mayor Brown believes Howard Winkler is one of the best lawyers in Canada. For example, he was very satisfied when the mayor and members of council utilized his services under this policy to help keep the Brampton Excelsiors lacrosse team in Brampton."
Brown's legal battle with CTV stems from when he was leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. The broadcaster reported allegations of sexual misconduct against him involving two women on Jan. 24, 2018, prompting him to resign from that role. He denied the allegations, threatened to sue in early February, and filed a statement of claim for $8 million in damages in mid-April. Brown and CTV announced they resolved their dispute on March 9, 2022. CTV conceded that "key details" of its original story were "factually incorrect," and updated its story to reflect that one woman who Brown was alleged to have made unwanted sexual advances on while she was drunk was actually of legal drinking age, rather than younger, as the original story said.
Fedeli launched an $8-million defamation suit of his own against Brown in January 2019 over claims Brown made about Fedeli in his book, Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown. Their dispute was settled in March 2020 when Brown apologized publicly for the claims he published.
Winkler represented Brown in both cases. However, none of the invoices seen by QP Briefing describe specifically what legal matters Winkler billed JusticeRisk Solutions for, and Brown's spokesperson denied those two disputes were covered by these funds.
The invoices QP Briefing obtained show Brown's lawyer charged the company contracted by the City of Brampton under the banner of Winkler Dispute Resolution, his mediation-focused service, from August 2019 to February 2021 (excluding May 2020).
Winkler then billed JusticeRisk Solutions through his Winkler Law Defamation Lawyers practice from March 2021 to April 2022, titling these invoices, "City of Brampton re: Mayor Patrick Brown and Members of City Council," and describing them similarly as before — "for professional services related to reputational protection and general legal advice."
Nick Kouvalis, a high-profile conservative strategist and adviser on Kaur's campaign team, has been raising questions on Twitter suggesting that city funds were used for more than just municipal purposes.
"Who paid Patrick Brown's legal bills against CTV News? Did CTV settle because they knew #Brampton taxpayers were footing his legal bills? Is there another explanation for the city to pay $300K to JusticeRisk Solutions? It’s time to learn the truth!" Kouvalis said in one tweet.
"Can you imagine a mayor who has their personal legal bills paid for by taxpayers, votes to stop an investigation that could implicate him, where close friends receive large contracts?" he said in another. "Add the terrifying increase in crime & Brampton has turned into Gotham City. Time for change!"
If you want the back up documents to prove this.
Just ask for them.
Patrick Brown is the most unethical, immoral, deceitful, unprincipled, loser in in Canadian politics.
Why should Bramptonians pay for his legal bills? pic.twitter.com/9yXsI6fjZK
— realNickKouvalis (@NickKouvalis) September 27, 2022
QP Briefing emailed JusticeRisk Solutions, Winkler and Brown's mayoral campaign manager John Mykytyshyn on Wednesday afternoon for comment, but none provided any.