Wheels of justice ground so
slowly that two accused set free
After more than 10 years, two former Trail Eagles members were let off the hook for theft and fraud charges thanks to a judgment rendered last week, but it’s a decision that has left at least one Eagle outraged.
James Nelson Leslie of Trail and Elizabeth Johanna Anderson of Penticton were charged with fraud and theft over $5,000 after around $385,000 went missing from a Trail Eagles Aerie between June 1997 and November 2000.
Due to numerous delays, the lawyer for Anderson and on behalf of Leslie applied for a stay of charges last month in Nelson court, arguing successfully that their right to be tried within a reasonable time had been violated.
Leslie was secretary of the Trail Aerie and Anderson bartender when the club was audited and the substantial shortfall found in 2000.
After the audit, Trail resident and Eagles trustee John Klit was appointed treasurer by the Grand Aerie to “deal with the mess.”
Klit followed the court proceedings closely since they started over five years ago and is extremely disappointed with the decision.
“I just can’t believe this. The delay was on his (Leslie’s) part. He kept putting it off because he didn’t have a lawyer, didn’t have a lawyer. I don’t know how many hearings I went to in Rossland and it was month after month after month, year after year.”
Leslie never did hire a lawyer but from the time charges were laid in 2005, Anderson retained the services of Trail lawyer William Westcott.
“I don’t think that contributed significantly to the delay,” said Westcott. “He didn’t have a lawyer . . . but it set out in the timeline (of the court decision) that delays were mostly attributable to Crown.
The five years that elapsed from when the two were fired from the Eagles and charges were laid is also a contributing factor in the decision.
“Some delay is inevitable . . . However, the Crown did not call any evidence to explain the delay, nor provide any satisfactory reason for it,” said the judge, Justice Kelleher, in his decision.
Leslie and Anderson were officially charged and first appeared in court in December 2005. They were in court for a hearing in May 2008, and a further delay before the preliminary inquiry began on Nov. 16, 2009, and finished in early January 2010.
According to court documents, Anderson kept detailed cash records of sales and expenses for the bar and usually made deposits. She also compiled monthly cash sheets, which she submitted to Leslie, who then recorded the information in a ledger, which he passed on to then treasurer Jerry Fullerton.
Both members were locked out of the aerie after an audit revealed the discrepancy but after Fullerton died in January 2001, the ledgers disappeared.
“Mr. Leslie has always alleged there was an original ledger that he kept, that’s never been found,” said Westcott.
Health issues also plagued Leslie. Dr. Andrea Jenkins recommended that Leslie was not competent to defend himself, had suffered from depression, chronic pain and that he required urgent psychiatric assistance.
But the judge pointed out that while Leslie may suffer from ill health and was embarrassed by the charges, “there is no specific evidence his health problems have been exacerbated by the delay.”
Nevertheless, Kelleher concluded that the accused are entitled to a stay.
“To rule otherwise would allow the secondary interest, i.e., societal interest to completely overrule the primary purpose of Section 11B (the charter of rights) which is the protection of the individual rights of the accused.”
Despite the decision, and after being forced to sell their original hall, the Trail Eagles have found a new home, meet twice a month and have attracted almost 200 members.
But the news that Leslie and Anderson won’t face the charges doesn’t sit well with Klit.
“The justice system stinks, where is the justice here? There is none and we’re left holding the bag for what almost ruined us.
“After all this time and what we’ve gone through – it’s just appalling to me – it’s just a damn shame. There is a lot of people in this community we could have helped and now we can’t,” said Klit.
The Crown has 30 days to file an appeal.