More than six years after Kim Kevin Hunt suffered a catastrophic brain injury and his ex-girlfriend had him “spirited away” for a secret wedding, an Ontario judge declared the marriage void.
That December 2017 decision was heralded as a win for victims of predatory marriage. Ontario Superior Court of Justice Edward J. Koke made headlines a few months later when he told Legal Aid Ontario to pay more than $190,000 in costs to the victim’s family because it continued to pay for the ex’s case after evidence showed Hunt was mentally incapable of consenting to marriage.
Now, the Court of Appeal for Ontario has overturned Koke’s decision.
The June 27 ruling — signed by Justices Sarah E. Pepall, Robert J. Sharpe and Lois B. Roberts — said there was no abuse of process, as Koke had declared in his judgment.
“Kim’s circumstances are most unfortunate,” the appeals court ruling said, “However, his misfortune does not render the award against (legal aid) sustainable either in law or in fact.”
Among its reasons, the appeals court ruling said Legal Aid’s system is not required to monitor cases. Instead, it can “rely on the opinions” of the lawyers it funds.
“The costs award against (legal aid) based on its failure to adequately monitor the litigation is inconsistent with and would frustrate that statuatory scheme,” the appeals court ruling said.
Koke’s decision was the first time that Legal Aid Ontario had been told to pay costs in a losing case it funded. In legal battles, the losers must often pay the “costs” of the winners. Legal Aid does not, however, represent clients. It pays for their private lawyers.
Legal Aid spokesperson Graeme Burk said the higher court’s ruling “is a very important one for Legal Aid Ontario, our clients and the private bar lawyers who do legal aid work.
“It recognizes the role Legal Aid Ontario plays in administering the legal aid system and the role private bar lawyers play in representing our clients and, most of all, it protects our clients’ privileged information,’ Burk said, in a written statement.
“This decision benefits low-income Ontarians in need of legal help.”
Kimberly Whaley, whose law firm represented Hunt’s sons, Justin and Brad Hunt, said the men are “disappointed with the decision and are considering their next steps — with the possibility of an appeal.”
Hunt’s sons, who live near Huntsville, are caring for their father. They spent six years fighting legal battles against Worrod, who said she wanted to stay married to Hunt and claimed ownership of his house. When they separated before his accident, Hunt bought out Worrod’s share of the house.
In voiding the marriage, Koke concluded that Worrod arranged for a secret wedding, just days after Hunt was released from hospital to the care of his sons. Hunt suffered a massive brain injury four months earlier when he crashed while driving an ATV. Medical evidence stated that Hunt’s brain had shrunk after the accident and he was incapable of making decisions.
Marriage would have given Worrod legal rights to Hunt’s future wealth, such as his growing landscape business, Camel Lake Bobcat and Landscaping, and home value, as well as access to his expected $1-million personal injury settlement. In his ruling on costs, Koke said Worrod was responsible for the remainder of the costs awarded to Hunt’s sons, but said it was unlikely she would pay since she was working at a Tim Hortons in British Columbia.
Moira Welsh is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @moirawelsh