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Koebels' lawyers weighing options

CP   2004-01-14 03:49:11  

WALKERTON -- Lawyers for Stan and Frank Koebel are still weighing options for the trials of the former Walkerton water managers. "We're still in the process of reviewing disclosure," Mark Lapowich told the court yesterday.

Lapowich appeared on behalf of Mike Epstein, the lawyer for Frank Koebel, and Bill Trudell, the lawyer for Stan Koebel.

"In two to three weeks, we will be in a much better position to decide if we will waive the preliminary (hearing)."

Lapowich said the decision would be made by Feb. 10, when the case will be back in court. At that time, a date will be set for either a preliminary hearing or a trial.

Stan and Frank Koebel face 12 charges, including forgery, breach of trust and public endangerment for their part in management of the Walkerton water system, which became contaminated with E. coli-laden manure in May 2000.

Seven people died and 2,500 got sick in what has been described as one of Canada's worst public health disasters.

During a judicial inquiry led by Justice Dennis O'Connor, both Koebels admitted to falsifying records and failing to maintain chlorination levels in the municipal water.

In his report, O'Connor found the Koebels engaged in "a host of improper and unsafe operating practices" in the years leading up to the tragedy and that some of those practices had a direct impact on the contamination outbreak.

Stan Koebel's failure to disclose adverse test results to the local health unit led to a delay in the boil-water order, which O'Connor said contributed to 300 to 400 illnesses.

O'Connor's report also cites cost-cutting under the Mike Harris government and lack of enforcement by the Environment Ministry.

A three-year Ontario Provincial Police investigation into the water disaster involved 3,800 interviews and "quite a number of documents" that the defence team is reviewing under a disclosure agreement with the Crown, Lapowich said.

"We still have some more disclosure that we have to review, part of the usual process," he said. "We'll have some discussions with the Crown as to whether or not a preliminary inquiry will be necessary in this matter."

The request to waive a preliminary hearing is up to the defence, said Crown attorney David Foulds, who declined comment on whether that was likely in this case.

Neither Stan nor Frank Koebel was present for yesterday's brief proceedings. Neither has entered a plea.

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