Documents show the City of Brampton covered $180,800 that went to Winkler Law LLP, a company owned by Howard Winkler, the attorney used by Patrick Brown to represent him in an $8 million defamation lawsuit against CTV and in a lawsuit brought by PC firm member Vic Fedeli.
Copies of invoices obtained from a source inside City Hall show “Winkler Dispute Resolution” began invoicing a third-party company on August 21, 2019 for: “City of Brampton re: Patrick Brown DESCRIPTION Charges Monthly Retainer Agreement Accepted June 25, 2019 Reputation Protection Professional Services and General Legal Advice”.
The total monthly amount was $5,650. The name and signature at the bottom of the invoice is “Howard Winkler”.
Five days later, on August 26, 2019, the third-party company, Justice Risk Solutions, began billing the City of Brampton for “administering a legal risk management agreement pursuant to By-law 142-2019.” The total monthly amount was $8,192.50.
Winkler Law is headed by Howard Winkler, who received $5,650 a month from the taxpayers of Brampton for professional services to council members related to reputation protection and general legal advice. Council members say they have not had adequate access to these services.
In May, a majority of council members ordered a third-party forensic investigation into the legal employment contracts, but Brown canceled the polls a few weeks ago, on August 26 when he had a majority of 5 to 4 due to the absence of a councilor and the seat vacated by Charmaine Williams who was elected to Queen’s Park in June after voting for the inquiry.
The legal service was canceled shortly after the inquiry was launched as advisers began to question what the legal bills were for and why there were few details to show what work had been done for more than 270 $000 total.
No information from the now canceled third-party investigation has been made public.
Invoices for legal work were submitted almost monthly, according to documents received by The Pointer, between August 2019 and April 2022, which was the last month included in the package obtained.
Justice Risk Solutions describes itself as “…a boutique insurance and finance company specializing in providing capital and risk solutions for lawyers and law firms. Unlike traditional brokers, who try to adapt the concern to the constraints of a standard product, Justice Risk Solutions has developed unique and personalized solutions with flexibility in mind. Our specialists understand the complexities of law firm accounting and business operations, as well as the unique constraints often encountered in running the business. We help provide the financial and risk control tools you need to help you grow your practice and your clients.
It’s unclear why a company that provides insurance and financing solutions to law firms was hired by the City of Brampton to provide “legal risk management.”
A spokesperson for Justice Risk Solutions said the company could not answer any questions about any of its customers. Unlike private sector clients, the City of Brampton is a public entity and the use of public funds should be completely transparent.
The Pointer has been trying to reach Howard Winkler since last week. He did not respond to written inquiries and voicemails.
Brown did not respond to requests for answers to The Pointer’s questions.
It is unclear why Winkler did not bill the City directly for his services. After The Pointer first raised concerns in early 2021 about the excessive legal fees that appeared on Mayor Brown’s expense disclosure, asking if he was using taxpayer money to cover his personal legal expenses , he said the amounts that appeared on his expenses were for the entire consultancy, not just him. Shortly thereafter, invoices submitted by Winkler to Justice Risk Solutions changed, showing that as of March 1, 2021, Winkler’s work was for “Mayor Patrick Brown and members of City Council,” not just Brown, as indicated on previous invoices.
Brown declined to explain what specifically Brampton taxpayers were paying. A total of $270,352.50 was billed by Justice Risk Solutions to the City between August 2019 and April 2022, according to documents received.
Advisers have raised their own concerns since learning of the arrangement with Winkler, which they were unaware of when the vague deal was struck at Brown’s insistence.
Councilor Jeff Bowman told The Pointer that in 2019 the idea of contracting with Justice Risk Solutions was originally presented to Council by Brown. “He didn’t mention Mr. Winkler once.”
“It was sort of presented to us as, ‘You really need that extra insurance, look at what happened with the (City Hall expansion lawsuit) and the ongoing lawsuits and the involvement of other advisers now that they are not advisers anymore.’ That’s sort of how it was told to us, that you really need that insurance.
The staff report to determine the service provided by Justice Risk Solutions was ordered by council after councilor Pat Fortini attempted to use the service for legal fees, discovering that the number given to him “was a helpline”.
“It was brought to the Council and all the questions started to arise. We understood this to be a full service legal service and whenever we needed it we would just call them and get legal representation but from what the other counselor said it was just a phone service you call and they would give advice over the phone – so they were told.
Bowman said the service had only been used once for a Council-related matter, when a problem with a local lacrosse club needed to be resolved. “I believe nine or ten board members had their names used in a letter sent regarding the lacrosse issue. This is the only time I know that this legal department has been associated with other members of the Council.
“I don’t know why our own attorney couldn’t write the letter…For the mayor to say that the legal department has always been used by all members of council is a total misrepresentation.”
Following this, on June 1, behind closed doors, relayed by public meeting minutesthe Board ordered the acting CEO to terminate the agreement with Justice Risk Solutions, citing concerns over procurement for the service, billing and costs.
In 2018, Brown was ousted as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario after a CTV report in which two women accused him of sexual misconduct. Winkler represented Brown in a lawsuit against the network eventually reaching a settlement with CTV in March this year that involved CTV issuing a correction to the story – changing the age of one of the alleged victims to 19 at the time of the alleged encounter, rather over 18, as originally stated. The material allegations against Brown of sexual misconduct have not changed. He denies the allegations.
Winkler would again be used by Brown to defend against a lawsuit brought by his former Progressive Conservative caucus colleague Vic Fedeli, who has launched an $8 million defamation lawsuit against Brown over allegations he made against Fedeli in Brown’s book, “Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Marron.”
The lawsuit was settled with the mayor issuing a public apology to the former provincial finance minister and retracting his claims made in the book as part of a 2020 settlement. This was when Winkler received payment for Brown’s services as mayor, covered by the Brampton ratepayers. Advisers were not made aware of the arrangement with Winkler at the time.
Taxpayers covered $8,192.50 per month to Justice Risk Solutions for additional legal coverage, which then paid $5,650 to Winkler Law LLP for “professional services related to reputation protection and general legal advice” to Patrick Brown.
Brown did not respond to requests for comment or respond to questions related to legal fees, including a request for a detailed list of legal work provided by Winkler Law LLP.
According to documents received through a Freedom of Information Act request by Brampton resident and attorney Wesley Jackson (which he posted on social media), the City found no record of the claims. referred to Justice Risk Solutions by the City since the company was hired.
Brown has previously denied allegations that taxpayers’ money was used to pay for his legal fees in the lawsuit filed by Fedeli, an allegation that has been forwarded to the Ontario ombudsman. The ombudsman recommended the Council launch a third-party investigation, but Brown recently called off ongoing investigations into questionable purchases, including one investigating contracts with Justice Risk Solutions and Winkler.
Freedom of Information Act requests show no claims were referred to JusticeRisk Solutions, to which the Council paid $270,352 from 2019 to 2022.
“If what happened is true, that that money went to Patrick Brown’s attorney, then again, that’s an example where something should have been stated in conflict and someone should have been exempt from voting,” Bowman said. “We have seen this happen again and again. So no, I don’t think we understood the value, I don’t think we used it beyond this letter that was written to the Ontario Lacrosse Association on behalf of the City.
Councilor Martin Medeiros said he had a five-minute conversation with Winkler, after he was initially denied access to the service.
“I insisted with the staff and with Justice Risk (Solutions) that I wanted to consult a lawyer regarding the defamation and I was repeatedly refused,” Medieros told The Pointer. “When I created an issue and threatened to go public, they appointed a lawyer to meet with me via video chat and it was a five minute conversation, I believe with Mr. Winkler.”
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