The proposed $66.6 million payout to McInnes Cooper for its successful legal work in the veterans’ benefits case is—in the words of Defence Minister Peter MacKay—“excessive and unreasonable.”
Topped, of course, only by the excessively excessive and unconscionably unreasonable seven-year battle MacKay’s federal government has waged against disabled veterans.
The issue—which dates back to 1979 and involves clawbacks of benefits paid to 7,500 retired Armed Forces veterans who also received disability pensions—was only finally joined in 2006. That’s when Dennis Manuge, an injured former soldier, showed up at McInnes Cooper’s Halifax office.
McInnes Cooper (full disclosure: I once wrote a commissioned history of the law firm) agreed to take his class action case on a standard contingency basis. If the firm won, it would take home 30 per cent of the final settlement; if it lost, it would get nothing.
Since then, the firm racked up more than 8,500 hours of potentially unpaid work, much of it, of course, fighting Ottawa-funded lawyers who steadfastly opposed certifying the class action and threw up all manner of procedural roadblocks.
The good guys ultimately won last spring when the federal court sided with the soldiers. Soon after, Ottawa cried uncle and negotiated what is now an $887.8-million settlement.
That would have translated into a $266 million payday for McInnes Cooper. Because of the size of the settlement, however, the firm agreed to reduce its percentage to 7.5—a still-huge $66.6 million fee for services rendered.
Which is what brought MacKay’s minions to a Halifax hearing last week to argue against the fee, claiming it could damage public perception of the legal profession.
Ironically, MacKay himself had insisted he needed the “considerable legal and judicial oversight” the drawn-out court battle provided to “clarify” how his government should treat its disabled veterans. “As a result of that court action, we are now moving forward out of fairness and respect for those veterans,” he explained.
Which doesn’t explain why his government couldn’t have done the right thing in the first place instead of forcing poor disabled veterans to hitch their fate to the hail-Mary of a contingency court case in order to get justice. And therefore creating that “excessive and unreasonable” legal payout of which he now complains.