A multi-million dollar wrongful dismissal and defamation trial collapsed because of the conduct of the lawyer representing former Edmonton Northlands cashiers, court documents show.
This week, CBC News opposed an application to permanently seal affidavits plaintiffs had filed about Glenda Pidde, who represented 19 fired Northlands parking services cashiers for more than six years, and a publication ban on a mistrial application.
“The public has a right to know about the reasons for the outcome of the case,” said CBC lawyer Tess Layton during oral arguments Wednesday.
Six sworn affidavits were prepared. The plaintiffs’ new lawyer asked Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Tom Rothwell to permanently seal the documents and to order a publication ban on their mistrial application.
Arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, lawyer Philip Prowse said the affidavits could embarrass Pidde. He described her behavior as “atrocious” and “nothing even close to professional.”
On Friday, Justice Rothwell decided in favor of the CBC, dismissing the plaintiff’s request for a publication ban and sealing order.
“Maintaining the open court does not pose a serious risk to her privacy or endanger her physical or mental health,” Rothwell said.
No trial preparation
The plaintiffs claimed in their sworn affidavits that they were never properly prepared for trial.
They described meeting with Pidde on March 6 at the Edmonton Inn. The lawyer demanded the group act as cheerleaders by repeatedly chanting, “We’re gonna win.”
On March 17, the group met at the Victoria golf course. Angela Pegg, in her affidavit, claimed the lawyer provided no trial preparation.
“[Pidde] wanted us to stand in a circle around her while stomping our feet. She wanted the plaintiffs to call her ‘The General,'” Pegg said.
Plaintiff Janet Roberts claimed in her affidavit that Pidde “danced to music for most of the meeting.”
At 11:29 pm the night before the trial began, Pidde sent Pegg an email saying she was taking marijuana capsules and asked Pegg to give her a wake-up call the next morning.
Around midnight, Pidde sent another email, saying he had started drinking wine.
“If I smell of alcohol or appear stoned, tell me. Bring gum or mouthwash if you think it will help,” she said.
On the first full day of the trial, Pidde made a wide-ranging opening statement that included accusations that Northlands had destroyed evidence, and lied to its employees and the public about what happened.
The judge consistently reminded him to treat the lawyer representing Northlands with professional respect.
If I smell of alcohol or appear stoned, tell me.– Glenda Pidde in an e-mail
After the court ended for the day, Pegg drove Pidde home.
She claimed Pidde asked to stop at a liquor store, where she bought a bottle of wine, and a marijuana dispensary, where she purchased 20 packs of edibles and three cans of marijuana-infused beverages.
Plaintiffs fed up with lawyer’s conduct
By Day 3 of the trial, the plaintiffs had had enough.
A number of them decided to write a note to the judge, asking him to speak to him about their lawyer’s conduct.
“Ms. Pidde did not want to speak to us and I did not know what to do,” Roberts said.
Afterward, outside the courtroom, Pidde tried intimidating her by bumping her chest twice into that of Roberts, she said.
“Ms. Pidde was erratic and angry,” Roberts said.
She said Pidde snatched the first note Roberts tried to hand to the clerk and crumpled it up, but Roberts wrote another note that was passed along to the judge.
In her affidavit, Pegg attached a copy of an email Pidde sent her on March 31.
“I will be asking the Justice to withdraw me as your counsel at 1:30…You have hurt me, abused and embarrassed me in a court of law. I am done,” Pidde said in the email.
When the judge gave Pidde time to speak to her clients outside the courtroom, Roberts said Pidde told her clients to “F—k off,” then entered the court and told Justice Rothwell that she wanted off the case.
“Ms. Pidde quitting in the middle of trial made me feel anxious, confused and scared. I did not know whether I, along with the other plaintiffs, would be given a fair trial,” wrote Roberts.
After the trial collapsed, Pidde continued to send Roberts “bizarre, racist, threatening text messages.”
The Law Society of Alberta was unable to say if it has received any complaints about Pidde or if her conduct is being investigated.
Civil lawsuit is now on hold
On Friday afternoon, the lawyer representing Northlands urged Justice Rothwell to declare an adjournment.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer wants a mistrial and a new judge.
Rothwell said he’ll issue a written decision, likely in July.