Opinion

COLUMN: No lack of drama in contempt trial

Marilyn James stood trial this month for criminal contempt of court. A ruling is expected next week. - Kevin Mills photo
Marilyn James stood trial this month for criminal contempt of court. A ruling is expected next week.
— image credit: Kevin Mills photo

I’m not sure my coverage of the Marilyn James criminal contempt trial adequately conveyed the courtroom atmosphere, which was unusual to say the least.

James is the Sinixt woman arrested on a Slocan Valley logging road in March a day after an injunction was granted to Galena Contracting. She denies obstructing the company from doing its work, although a co-accused pled guilty and received a 14-day conditional sentence. She is representing herself.

I was in the courtroom this month for the trial’s second day and listened to the audio transcript of the third and final day. A ruling is expected a week from today.

Throughout the trial, James’ voice was rarely below a bellow and she frequently scoffed at BC Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan’s questions. Nevertheless, he gave her wide latitude, only interrupting occasionally to tell her to stick to the events in question. About a dozen of James’ supporters were in the gallery.

Amid the otherwise charged and contentious proceedings, there was one bit of levity, when James described her arrest and mimicked the sound of a police radio. McEwan couldn’t help but chuckle with everyone else. “That’s a pretty good imitation,” he said.

PAY GRID: It doesn’t surprise me that three of the City of Nelson’s top paid employees are on the hydro line crew. They have a dangerous and difficult job that requires being called out at all hours in all weather.

What’s interesting is that a lineman’s base salary is about $84,000. The $129,000 to $155,000 paid to the highest earners is the result of hundreds of hours of overtime.

Sub-foreman Garth Georgetti, one of five linemen, figures he worked 900 hours of overtime last year restoring electricity to everyone in the service area. That’s the equivalent of 24 extra weeks.

“I cannot count over the last 27 years how many of my son’s hockey games, goals, and saves I have missed including Christmas gift openings when the kids were little, family dinners and events, leaving parties, etc. because the phone rings,” he says.

He acknowledges it’s what line workers choose when they enter the trade and says most people are “extremely positive” toward them, but a minority are highly critical of what they earn.

“You’d be surprised,” he says. “Even my wife gets comments where she works. One business a couple years ago told one of the guys buying a sled that he should pay top price because of what he makes. I have almost come to blows when people who barely know me accost me in stores and embarrass me.”

Meanwhile, to put this year’s civic salaries in further context: the 37 employees making over $75,000 had a total remuneration in 2013 of $3.84 million, up from $3.8 million in 2012. That’s a one per cent hike, consistent with the 0.9 per cent increase in the consumer price index during the same time.

Employees earning under $75,000 made a combined $5.4 million in 2013, up from $5.6 million the previous year — a collective increase of 4.6 per cent. But it’s not clear from the annual statement of financial information whether staffing levels went up, down, or stayed the same. I haven’t yet been able to find out.

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