North Vancouver-based Valkyrie Law Corp. was awarded a three-year contract by the city in a tender process that rated firms in part on the number of lawyers they employed that could service the city’s account.
However, the firm has been left with only one senior lawyer, Sandra Carter, following the departure of former partner Adrienne Atherton, who in mid-January joined a firm founded by three other former Valkyrie partners.
While Valkyrie’s website shows it has three other staff members, one was only licensed to practice law in BC four months ago, another is based in Germany, and the third is not a lawyer.
Ms. Carter, who handled some of Ms. Samra’s most sensitive files, yesterday declined to comment on the status of her firm or its ability to continue meeting the terms the city contract.
“We cannot discuss confidential firm or personnel matters outside the firm, and we are precluded by the rules governing lawyers from publicly discussing or commenting on any client matters whatsoever,” Ms. Carter said in an email.
Samra wanted to hire in-house lawyer
The call for applicants closed on Jan. 26 but the process was put on hold following Ms. Samra’s arrest on the night of Jan. 31 on allegations of uttering threats. She has not been charged and was released on conditions that bar her from attending work.
Ms. Samra first retained Valkyrie’s services less than two weeks after she was hired as interim city manager for a six-month term in November 2015.
She awarded the firm a contract worth up to $150,000 without a competitive bid process or a valid exception to the city’s procurement policies, records show.
Ms. Carter’s first project was advising councillors at a closed meeting on Nov. 30, 2015 on steps they could take against councillors Diane Brennan and Ian Thorpe for allegedly leaking information to the media and public about Ms. Samra’s unusual hiring.
Ms. Samra, who was well-known to several councillors and had previously left the city in 2013 after six months with a $75,000 severance, had been hired by the five-man council majority led by councillor Bill Bestwick. She was hired without an interview or reference checks after a 27-minute council discussion at a meeting originally called to create a shortlist from among 22 candidates.
The alleged leak about the interim hiring process became the focus of a messy and expensive legal battle between Ms. Brennan and mayor Bill McKay on one side, and the Bestwick majority on the other. The issue finally came to a head in mid-January this year at an irregular censure hearing and ruling against Ms. Brennan that overstepped council’s legal authority.
Valkyrie awarded 3-year contract after losing three partners
When Ms. Samra first hired Valkyrie in November 2015 the firm had five lawyers. However, in March 2016 three of the partners split from Valkyrie to create their own firm, Civic Legal LLP, the firm Ms. Atherton has now joined.
That left Valkyrie with just Ms. Carter and Ms. Atherton as its lawyers when, on July 8, 2016, Ms. Samra formally issued a request for proposal (RFP) for legal services.
The RFP asked interested firms to provide extensive details about their capabilities, including their firm’s size, organizational chart, details of primary lawyers on the city’s account and who would be the backup lawyers during absences.
At the time, Valkyrie’s website showed that it had added a third lawyer to its team, Victoria-based Kristine Byram. However, Ms. Byram was never a Valkyrie employee and was already living in Germany and doing contract legal work remotely in BC.
Ms. Byram told News Nanaimo that she runs her own practice, and “occasionally contract my legal services to Valkyrie.”
According to a September 19, 2016 city staff report, eight law firms responded to the city’s RFP. Staff recommended to council that four firms be awarded three-year contracts.
Valkyrie was given a contract to provide municipal law advice to the administration, which meant working closely with Ms. Samra.
The three other successful firms were Harris & Company for general employment law, Roper Greyell for labour law, and Stewart Mcdannold Stuart for city operations municipal law.
Mr. McKay was the only council member to vote against hiring Valkyrie.
Almost $300K in fees in 2016
Records show the city paid $298,142.97 to Valkyrie in 2016, about $200,000 more than any of the other law firms that the city contracted. Figures for 2017 have not yet been made public.
Ms. Carter is known to have worked closely with Ms. Samra on some of the city’s most controversial projects.
She was directly involved with Ms. Samra in negotiations to change the city’s agreement with the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, which led to its collapse in December 2016.
More recently, Ms. Samra entrusted her to handle a review by city auditors KPMG of staff credit card transactions going back more than 10 years.
That review was meant to justify chief financial officer Victor Mema’s personal spending on vacations and other expenses in breach of city policies and for which he was unable to reimburse the city.