Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin McHugh has ordered 2014 mayoral candidate Ray McHugh (no relation) to pay a total of $16,500 in court costs to Mayor Barb Clumpus and the Municipality of Meaford after unsuccessful appeal related to the election expenses of his opponents.
In a decision released on March 20, the judge ordered McHugh to pay $9,000 to Clumpus and $7,500 to the municipality. Clumpus had been seeking more than $13,000 in costs, while the municipality sought $15,505 in legal costs after McHugh's challenge of reported campaign expenses for both Mayor Clumpus and second place candidate Jim McPherson ended up before the courts.
In his decision on the awarding of court costs, the judge suggested that McHugh's appeal to the courts was ill conceived.
“Ultimately, I find that Mr. McHugh’s pursuit of this appeal was ill-conceived and without merit. I do not conclude, however, that it was vexatious, or brought with mala fides,” the judge noted in his decision. “Mr. McHugh ought to be required to compensate the respondents for their fair and reasonable costs incurred to defend this litigation on a partial indemnity basis.”
While the judge did not conclude that McHugh's appeal was vexatious, he did note that he lacked focus at times, and that the proceedings were unnecessarily prolonged.
“Both respondents have submitted that the conduct of the appellant was vexatious, unco-operative, and unduly lengthened the proceedings. Indeed, Mr. Elston suggested that the appellant’s pursuit of the Appeal demonstrated a “shocking and cavalier approach” to these proceedings. While the self-represented appellant was at times unfocussed, I did not conclude that his presentation was purposely obstructive, nor that he was intentionally misleading as suggested in Mr. Renken’s costs submissions. While making oral submissions, Mr. McHugh was quite brief, and tended to rely on his written material. Having said that, I do find that the duration of the proceedings were unnecessarily lengthened by Mr. McHugh’s initial addition of Mr. McPherson as a party/respondent. This was particularly ill-advised given that the Committee had granted Mr. McHugh’s request and ordered an audit of McPherson’s expenses, and thus no reasonable ground for an appeal therefrom existed,” noted the judge.
In July of 2015, the joint compliance audit committee (JCAC) denied a request from 2014 Meaford mayoral candidate Ray McHugh to have an audit conducted of Mayor Barb Clumpus's campaign expenses, while at the same meeting the committee granted a request from McHugh to have mayoral candidate Jim McPherson's campaign expenses audited.
At the time, McHugh told the committee of three – Phil Cant of Meaford, Don King of Georgian Bluffs, and Ray McKelvie of Owen Sound – that in his opinion the campaign expenses of both Clumpus and McPherson were under-reported in an effort to avoid an automatic audit of campaign expenses that would have been initiated and paid for by the candidates if either campaign had reported more than $10,000 in expenses.
McHugh appealed the 2015 decision of the joint compliance committee to the courts.
“By way of Notice of Appeal issued on July 29, 2015, McHugh appealed the Committee’s decision with respect to both McHugh and Cooper-Clumpus to the Ontario Court of Justice. The appeal was heard on October 4, 2016. On that date, McHugh abandoned his appeal of the decision with respect to McPherson and the Committee’s decision to grant the application for an audit of McPherson became final,” noted committee lawyer Harold Elston in a February 21 report. “In Reasons for Decision released on January 17, 2017 upheld the C.A.C.’s decision not to order an audit of Cooper-Clumpus’s campaign finances, finding that its conclusion fell within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and the law. McHugh’s appeal of the decision was dismissed.”
The maximum allowable campaign expenditures for mayoral candidates in Meaford for the 2014 municipal election was slightly more than $16,000. McPherson's reported expenses at the time amounted to $9,462.85, and Clumpus reported expenses of $6,362. McHugh, who finished third after the votes were tallied in October of 2014, reported just $732.59 in campaign expenses.
The Independent sought comment from McHugh, who represented himself in the case, however in an email response he declined to answer questions, but he did question the judge's ruling.
“Do you not think that there are many points made by the Judge that go against the campaign finance rules?” McHugh asked. “What is the purpose of campaign finance rules?”