“If the appeal is ultimately successful, and this court quashes the finding of contempt, Mr. Denis has not shown why that would not repair any damage to his reputation”

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Former Alberta justice minister Jonathan Denis has failed in a bid to overturn his contemplation of court conviction.

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Denis, the Progressive Conservative minister of justice from 2012 to 2015, was found guilty last month of trying to intimidate Dr. Anny Sauvageau by sending a letter to her lawyer during the trial of her $7.5 million wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

Denis asked the Court of Appeal last week to stay the contempt charge pending an appeal, arguing Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Doreen Sulyma failed to follow procedural safeguards in finding him guilty.

Denis said the contempt finding has caused “irreparable” harm to his reputation, causing three lawyers and at least one client to leave his firm. He said he now risks “being put out of business and suffering market loss.”

Court of Appeal Justice Ritu Khullar, however, declined to stay the conviction, and also denied a request for an expedited appeal.

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“If the appeal is ultimately successful, and this court quashes the finding of contempt, Mr. Denis has not shown why that would not repair any damage to his reputation,” Khullar wrote.

She added that Denis “overestimates the ability of a stay pending appeal to stop harm to his reputation.”

‘An act of intimidation’

Sauvageau was Alberta’s chief medical examiner from 2011 to 2014 and claims she was forced from the job for standing up to political interference in her office. Her trial of her is ongoing and the allegations have not been proven in court.

On April 7, a week into the trial, Sauvageau’s lawyer received a letter titled “Defamation by Dr. Anny Sauvageau.” Sent by a junior lawyer with Denis’s Guardian Law Group, it accused Sauvageau of defaming Denis in her testimony de ella and conducting a “seven-year campaign of defamation and harassment” against him.

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Dr. Anny Sauvageau, the province's former deputy chief medical examiner.
Dr. Anny Sauvageau, the province’s former deputy chief medical examiner. Photo by Larry Wong /post media file

The letter brought the eight-week trial to a grinding halt, with both Sulyma and Sauvageau’s lawyer saying they had never encountered a similar situation in their combined 85 years of legal practice.

Later that month, Sulyma, ruled that Denis’s letter was an “act of intimidation.”

She accepted Sauvageau’s claim that despite her testimony being protected by absolute privilege, the threat of a lawsuit made her afraid to give evidence. Denis later apologized to the court through his lawyer for him, but Sulyma rejected his characterization of the situation as a “misunderstanding.”

Contempt of court carries sentences that include ends and up to two years in jail.

Last week, Denis’s lawyer appeared before Khullar in a single-justice hearing, asking the high court to stay Sulyma’s contemplate finding pending a full appeal.

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Brendan Miller said the contempt hearing should have been dealt with by a separate judge as part of a three-part process, including a chance for Denis to cross-examine Sauvageau and call evidence. He argued Sulyma combined the first two parts of the hearing “although it was not urgent or necessary to do so.”

Miller told Khullar that the court of appeal needed to intervene to “stop the bleeding” ahead of a full appeal of the contempt conviction. In written submissions, Denis said a stay would send a message “that this appeal has merit, there is the potential that Justice Sulyma was wrong, and there is the possibility I have yet to have a fair opportunity .. to vindicate and defend myself. ”

Denis failed to prove harm to his reputation: judge

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While Khullar found Denis cleared one of the hurdles for a stay, she said he failed to prove he had suffered “irreparable” harm to his reputation that could be fixed by the court.

She disagreed that a stay would send any message about his appeal’s merits.

“All it says is that there is a serious question to be decided about the contempt finding and that the remainder of the test for a stay has been met.”

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She added that a stay could cause the proceeding to become “litigation by installation,” which she said “is not an efficient use of limited judicial resources.”

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In an email, Miller said Denis is “pleased that the Court of Appeal noted that there is a serious issue to be tried regarding our position that the proper procedure was not followed at the lower court.”

“This matter is over one letter sent from one lawyer to another and we believe there could have been an entirely different result had the proper procedure been followed.”

Neither Sauvageau nor the Government of Alberta — the sole remaining defendant in the lawsuit — presented arguments on the stay.

A date for a sentencing hearing on Denis’s conviction has not been set.

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