Jun. 15, 2005.
A man who spent two nights in the Don Jail because a paralegal company he hired failed to notify him of an upcoming court date has won $25,000 in damages.
"X-Copper was obliged to ensure that Mr. (Jerry) Hamilton was made aware of the necessity to appear in court on Nov. 8, 2002 for trial," Justice Elizabeth Stewart of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said in her written ruling.
As a result of not knowing about the trial date on a charge of driving while his licence was suspended, the 32-year-old single father of two was tried in absentia, convicted, fined $5,000 and sentenced to 15 days in jail.
He was arrested, strip-searched and, before making bail, spent two nights in Toronto (Don) Jail, where he slept fitfully and couldn't eat the food, the judge said.
"He was upset, frightened and bewildered to the point that he actually broke down and cried," the judge said in her ruling, released Monday.
Hamilton, a manager with Bell Canada, suffered the embarrassment of explaining his circumstances to his supervisor, Stewart said.
Fortunately, his supervisor was understanding and Hamilton's employment was not affected, the judge added.
Reached yesterday, Hamilton said he felt vindicated by the judgment. "I wasn't doing it for the money," he said. "I was doing it for the principle."
His problems began on Nov. 22, 2001, when police stopped Hamilton near Eglinton Ave. E. and the Don Valley Parkway and asked for a breath sample. Hamilton told the judge he tried but couldn't use the roadside equipment to the officers' satisfaction, and so police charged him under the Criminal Code with failing to provide a breath sample. His driver's licence was immediately suspended.
A tow truck was called, but Hamilton drove home instead. Police saw this and charged him with the Highway Traffic Act offence of driving while his licence was suspended, the judge said.
Hamilton testified that he hired X-Copper to represent him on both charges. The company, whose staff includes former police officers, represents clients in traffic law cases.
X-Copper contended that it made clear to him that it would represent him only on the charge of failing to provide a breath sample.
But the judge believed Hamilton. "X-Copper failed to make any limit on its services clearly known to him," Stewart wrote.
Despite maintaining it was not representing Hamilton on the Highway Traffic Act charge, X-Copper nevertheless sent an employee to court on May 30, 2002 on his behalf.
The employee requested a trial adjournment. The trial was put over to Nov. 8, but X-Copper neglected to inform Hamilton, the judge found.
On Dec. 3, Hamilton was acquitted in court on the charge of failing to provide a breath sample.
It was there he first learned of the trial date he had missed for the other charge and was shocked to find out that a bench warrant had been issued for his arrest, the judge said. He surrendered to police and was jailed.
X-Copper sent one of its employees to help him make bail, but it took some time due to the employee's lack of familiarity with the process, Stewart found.
Hamilton was released pending appeal of his conviction, which was eventually overturned.