Hillcrest legal wrangling adds up

Court documents reveal more than $175,000 in legal bills and financial records in disarray

The power struggle for control of the Hillcrest Centre’s volunteer board led to more than $175,000 in legal bills and the society’s financial records were found in disarray, according to documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

“In some instances, [Riley Park Hillcrest Community Association] paid the lawyers directly for their services,” said the March 22-filed application. “In other instances, its directors and some non-directors have paid the lawyers’ fees personally or on behalf of the society or others.”

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The association is seeking a judge’s approval to compensate current and former directors for all past and future legal costs, charges and expenses, including amounts paid to settle an action or satisfy a judgment. The application is scheduled to be heard March 30 by Justice Lisa Warren.

The 1965-incorporated society was originally ground zero of the campaign against the park board’s move to centralize programming and impose the OneCard. It remains at odds with the park board over joint operation of Hillcrest Centre, which was built for the 2010 Winter Olympics. “This legal proceeding is ongoing and has created tension and difficulties in the community and between Hillcrest’s members and its executive,” said the application. “It is in this context that a series of inter-connected incidents arose within Hillcrest and its community that led to the three legal proceedings.”

Directors Ken Charko, Jennifer Palma, Jaimini Thakore and Eli Zbar sued after then-president Jesse Johl fired them from the board between October 2013 to March 2014. That action was settled out of court and the annual general meeting was delayed from April to September 2014. The matter cost $34,034.86 in legal fees. Charko said he paid the $10,500 retainer and has yet to be reimbursed.

A group of Hillcrest members proceeded to hold a June 2014 AGM and elect a new board, including Charko. That election was ruled invalid when Johl’s group won an August 2014 order for a new AGM by the end of October 2014. That order also set a nine-person interim board including Charko, Johl and treasurer Todd Constant. Hillcrest paid $111,377 in legal fees, while members of the new board spent $47,000 of their own money on legal fees. The application said Art Bomke, Grant Macfarlane and Dianne Wiedemann have not been reimbursed.

Johl, Constant and three others quit the board between in mid-October 2014. At the time, Johl was running an unsuccessful campaign for city council under the Vancouver 1st banner.

The filing said a third matter occurred, on Nov. 2, 2014, when Charko visited Constant’s residence: “An incident subsequently occurred that led to a criminal proceeding against Mr. Charko. This matter was stayed and is the subject matter of a publication ban.”

It also said Charko “had no reason to believe that his interactions with Mr. Constant were unlawful,” but did not give details. In his affidavit, Charko said he went to Constant’s to obtain a USB drive containing information for the Hillcrest AGM. Charko’s defence cost $17,275, fees that Hillcrest eventually paid.

“We’re dealing with the insurance company to cover all the fees, except for the non-director fees, in our insurance policy,” Charko said in an interview. “That’s a very important issue. Save and except the non-directors’ legal fees, we can make the association whole.”

Meanwhile, board treasurer Raymond Chung, a retired Certified Professional Accountant, met in October 2014 with Hillcrest and Park Board staff. The document said there were missing or improper payroll records, failures to pay or remit government taxes and reports, failure to pay WorkSafeBC fees, improper use and recording of society cheques and improper authorization and recording of society payments to other parties.

Hillcrest hired a bookkeeper to assist Chung. The 2014 audit is complete, but the 2015 audit is not. “A significant amount of time and effort will be required to complete the work,” the document said.

A second application seeks the court’s direction to hold a new board election.


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