Lawyer Claims Firm Hasn't Paid for Native Abuse Cases

By Daryl Slade
Calgary Herald
May 21, 2008

A city lawyer who says he led the successful fight to win compensation for Indian residential school victims is suing his former law firm for $30 million, claiming it did not pay him for his work on the mammoth class-action lawsuit.

Tom Stepper alleges he was responsible for obtaining thousands of clients for Merchant Law Group, then drafted statements of claim utilized by the firm, including defining the concept of cultural abuse.

As a result of his ideas and work on the case, Stepper says in his five-page lawsuit filed this month, the law firm became extensively involved and ultimately resolved the litigation with the federal government.

He claims he conducted the work on a contingency fee basis while with the firm between 1998 and 2003, and was to receive compensation upon any settlements or judgments on each file.

Stepper says the Merchant group and its clients were to receive $40 million in legal fees from the federal government, but he has not been paid.

In the lawsuit, he claims he travelled "extensively to maximize the firm's presence, originating and leading the firm's representation in the Alberta case management process."

He says he handled "various other criminal and family matters on behalf of the residential school litigants on an assignment basis" and managed thousands of files in the process.

Stepper says he has suffered financial loss as a result of the actions of the law firm.

Stepper said Tuesday he has not yet served the document, but will do so soon.

The firm is based in Regina with offices in Calgary and across Canada.

He is seeking $10 million each for damages for breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment and breach of contract, as well as $125,000 for punitive or aggravated damages.

Two years ago, the case was settled out of court between the government and former students who suffered cultural abuse. Some 90,000 have been compensated from a $1.3-billion pot, based on how long they attended residential schools.

Students claiming physical and sexual abuse were to be awarded additional compensation based on the extent of the abuse.

Stepper was in court on Tuesday on an unrelated matter, in which he was suspended by the law society and is facing disciplinary action.

A hearing is expected to be held before the law society in July.



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