Lawyer expects trial could begin early next year
Four people cleared of sex abuse charges in the 1992 Martensville case could be ready to go to trial on their malicious prosecution lawsuit at this time next year.
Ron and Linda Sterling, who operated a home day care, former Martensville police officer Darryl Ford and an unnamed person who was a youth in 1992, are proceeding with the lawsuit they launched in 1996 against police and prosecutors, their lawyer Geoff Dufour said Tuesday.
Those plaintiffs and three other police officers, Darren Sabourin, Jim Elstad and Ed Revesz, who are represented by other lawyers, had hoped to avoid going to trial after former police officer John Popowich won a $1.3-million settlement in June 2002.
Popowich and the others were falsely accused in the sensational case that featured allegations of ritual sex abuse, Satanism, animal mutilation and murder.
After the Popowich settlement, then-justice minister Chris Axworthy said he expected it to be “the first in a series” of settlements with plaintiffs in the matter.
Plaintiff lawyers forwarded proposals to the province in hopes of quick resolutions but those hopes faded after more than a year with no response from the government.
In July, government lawyer Don McKillop applied to have disclosure from the Popowich trial made available to the remaining plaintiffs to save them having to ask for the same information.
Dufour said he has reviewed those documents and is ready for the next step in the legal process: examinations for discovery are scheduled for the first two weeks of March, when Crown prosecutors Bruce Bauer and Leslie Sullivan will be questioned.
Dufour hopes that all examination for discovery hearings will be complete by June.
“And then that would set the pace for a pretrial conference in the fall and hopefully, a trial starting about this time next year,” Dufour said.
The case, which involved bizarre allegations of ritual sex abuse against numerous children who were cared for at the Sterling’s home, resulted in 180 charges being laid against nine individuals and drew international media attention.
The entire file yielded one conviction of sexual assault.
The stories of murder, animal mutilation and Satanism eventually were proved unfounded and the methods of police and prosecutors came under heavy criticism.
Investigators had elicited the allegations by asking the children leading questions and prosecutors had gone ahead with charges despite police misgivings about the veracity of the claims.
The remaining lawsuits name Saskatoon and Martensville police officers, their police boards, prosecutors Bauer and Sullivan, the government of Saskatchewan and the attorney general.
Plaintiffs in the case are also watching with interest the way the government deals with another high-profile malicious prosecution case, brought by Richard Klassen, Sherry Kvello and their family members.
Lawyer Lee Cutforth, who represents Sabourin, said that while the facts of the Klassen and Kvello case are different, the government has in both cases shown an unwillingness to take responsibility and instead is “really trying to win by attrition rather than on the merits,” he said.
Cutforth and Bill Roe, who represents Revesz, said they are also proceeding with their cases.
McKillop was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Richard Gabruch, who represents Elstad, also was not available.