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The Ombudsman reviewed two closed meetings held by council for the Town of Collingwood on February 6 and June 11, 2018. The Ombudsman found that quotes for legal fees containing specific information, such as suggested strategy, constituted advice subject to solicitor-client privilege. The Ombudsman found that council did not contravene the Municipal Act, 2001 since both meetings fit under the exception for advice subject to solicitor-client privilege.
The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by council-in-committee for the County of Norfolk to discuss the extension of legal services contracts. The meeting was closed using the personal matters exception. The discussion included scrutiny of the performance, responsiveness and expertise of individual lawyers. However, the majority of the discussion related to the fee structure proposed by each firm. The Ombudsman found that the portion of the committee’s discussion that related to personal information about the lawyers fit within the personal matters exception.
The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by council-in-committee for Norfolk County to discuss the extension of legal services contracts with two law firms. The committee discussed the hourly rate proposed by each firm. While the municipality did not rely on the exception for solicitor-client privilege, the Ombudsman considered whether it would apply to the discussion. The Ombudsman found that it was unclear from existing jurisprudence whether the hourly rate of a lawyer (as opposed to the total amount of legal fees paid under a retainer) is presumptively sheltered under solicitor-client privilege. However, any presumption would be rebutted because the committee did not directly or indirectly reveal any communication protected by privilege by disclosing the lawyers’ hourly rate. Therefore, the Ombudsman found that the committee’s discussion did not fit within the exception for solicitor-client privilege.