Criminal lawyer Tom Engel says he feels vindicated after winning a defamation lawsuit against the Edmonton Police Association and its former director, Bill Newton.
The association and Newton, who has since retired, have been ordered to pay Engel $50,000 in damages, plus court costs.
The lawsuit centred around an article Newton wrote about Engel that was published on the EPA’s website in September 2008.
In a 21-page ruling released this week, Justice Avril Inglis sided with Engel.
“I find the general tenor, plain meaning and specific comments of the article to be defamatory,” Inglis wrote. “The article was clearly directed at Mr. Engel primarily and repeatedly defamed him professionally.”
Inglis awarded the lawyer $50,000 in general damages.
In an interview Friday with CBC News, Engel said being involved in a lawsuit is always stressful and he’s glad the case has finally concluded.
Engel often represents people who have filed complaints against police with the Law Enforcement Review Board.
“I’d been putting up with a lot of unfounded criticism about the reasons why I and my law firm were doing this kind of work,” he told CBC News.
“That is in relation to being critical of how the Edmonton Police Service was holding officers accountable, or not holding them accountable, for situations where there’s pretty serious misconduct.”
‘Well, enough is enough’
Engel said he knows his work has made him some enemies among Edmonton police.
“As we and the Criminal Lawyers Lawyers Association got more aggressive and more involved, the police officers were retaliating,” he said. “Making law society complaints against me, saying defamatory things about me in public. And so when this publication occurred in 2008, I thought, ‘Well, enough is enough.’ “
Engel said Newton’s article questioned his competence, and accused him of being dishonest and of having a personal vendetta against police.
The lawyer said shortly after the article was published he contacted EPA vice-president Tony Simioni and tried to resolve the situation without a lawsuit. He said he didn’t get the retraction and apology he was seeking.
“When the two years was running out to sue, again, I just thought, I’m not going to put up with this,” Engel said. “So I sued.”
Newton’s testimony during the trial contradicted what he had written in the article, according to the ruling.
“He was called by the defense and he basically admitted that I was a competent lawyer and he respected me,” said Engel. “Which was kind of weird, given that the article was claiming that I was extremely incompetent.”
‘Why didn’t you settle it?’
Engel said that was as close as he got to an apology from Newton.
“I didn’t get an apology but I got an acknowledgment from him, under oath, that basically none of the things he was saying about me were true.”
Engel said the entire matter could have been settled years ago with an apology and retraction. He said EPA members should question why that didn’t happen.
“I hope they read this judgment and then turn to their board and ask some pretty tough questions,” he said.
“Like, why didn’t you settle this? Why didn’t you apologize and retract? How was it that the board of the EPA approved this article being posted, and why when the offer was made by Engel for far less, why didn’t you settle it?
“The rank and file of the EPS are going to have to pay for this judgment.”
The EPA said on Friday it is reviewing the decision and had no comment.