Former legislative clerk Craig James pleads not guilty to breach of trust, fraud

Craig James, the former clerk of the Legislative Assembly of B.C., has pleaded not guilty to three counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of fraud in excess of $5,000.

At a hearing Thursday morning in B.C. Supreme Court, James elected to be tried by judge alone.

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A decision was also released Thursday morning by Justice Heather Holmes quashing the first count against James, which alleged that James used his position to advance his own personal interest over the public good.

James pleaded not guilty to the remaining five charges.

Holmes has moved the trial to Vancouver for administrative reasons. It is expected to begin Jan. 24 and last for five to six weeks.

The charges, sworn in Vancouver in December by an agent of the B.C. Attorney ­General, were approved by special prosecutors who were assigned to the case during an RCMP investigation into senior staff at the legislature.

The charges allege that James improperly obtained and kept a long-service award in the amount of $257,988.38, bought a wood splitter and trailer with public funds and used it for his own benefit, and made ­fraudulent travel-expense claims.

James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were suspended from their high-ranking ­positions in November 2018 and escorted off the legislature grounds by Victoria police.

The following January, then-Speaker Darryl Plecas released a report alleging that James and Lenz, a former RCMP officer, spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on lavish trips, clothing and personal expenses, and that James bought the $3,000 wood splitter with public money and kept it at his home.

In May 2019, retired Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin released an independent report into the allegations of misconduct against the two senior ­legislature officers.

She cleared Lenz, but ­substantiated four of five ­allegations against James, ­finding he used public money to buy expensive suits and ­luggage for personal use, removed alcohol from the legislature and made personal use of a wood-splitter bought with public funds.

McLachlin also found James engaged in wrongdoing by accepting a $257,988 payout from a retirement benefit in 2012, despite the fact he never retired.

James resigned in May 2019. Lenz retired in October 2019. The former RCMP detachment commander in Sidney had been appointed the legislature’s ­sergeant-at-arms in 2009.

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