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All rise, court is in session...

So many good court stories are going unreported, we've decided to step in and do the job ourselves. Welcome to the Black Rod Court series.

Battlin' Mayors

The City of Winnipeg threw a hail mary pass to get out of a $2 million breach of trust lawsuit launched by the Aquatic Hall of Fame and Museum.

But a Court of Queen's Bench judge has knocked it down and told city lawyers to suit up and bring their best game to court.

The city filed a motion for a summary judgement---a ruling that essentially says, look, everyone knows there's really nothing to this lawsuit, so let's toss it out before we have to go to the expense and bother of a trial.

Madam Justice Lori Spivak, in a written ruling, said the hall of fame has enough evidence on its side, including an almost-forgotten signed agreement with the city in Mayor Steven Juba's day, to warrant a full trial.

The city plans to call its own former mayor, Susan Thompson, to dump on the aquatic hall of fame.

The trial will be a kick to the groin for modern pundits who tout "vision" as the touchstone of successful politicians, especially mayors. It's embarassing evidence that vision comes with a best-before date. 43 years after Juba lured the Aquatic Hall of Fame to Winnipeg as part of his vision for the city, it's been given the bum's rush out of town, vision be damned.

With the 1967 Pan Am Games coming to Winnipeg, Juba thought a Swimming Hall of Fame would be the perfect accessory for the newly built Pan Am Pool. He sold the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association on his idea and the hall of fame was created. It stayed until two years ago when a dispute over who had to pay for insurance ended the relationship and the hall of fame was shown the door.

They sued for breach of contract. As the city was preparing its arguments to get the case thrown out of court, their opponents made a last-minute discovery. Somebody blew the dust off a 1973 agreement between the city and the Aquatic Hall of Fame and "Voila."

Here's the part the city hates:

NOW THEREFORE THIS AGREEMENT WITNESSETH THAT in consideration of the sum of One Dollar ($1.00) (the receipt of which sum is hereby acknowledged), the Hall of Fame hereby transfers its Aquatic Memorabilia to the City for permanent display purposes at the Pan-Am Pool, 25 Poseidon Bay, Winnipeg, on the understanding that the Hall of Fame will be maintained at that site.
In the event that, for some unforeseen reason the Pan-Am Pool should no longer be the site of the Hall of Fame due to the fact of the demolition of the building, the City hereby agrees to transfer all the Aquatic Memorabilia donated back to the Hall of Fame for and in consideration of the sum of One Dollar ($1.00).
The City hereby agrees to insure the Aquatic Memorabilia against fire and theft either through its current total property insurance policy or under such insurance scheme or self-insurance plan as it may decide upon from time to time, and in the event that a loss should occur through fire and theft, the City agrees to pay the actual cash valuation of such loss over to the Hall of Fame for replacement or substitution purposes only, such replaced or substituted article of Memorabilia to become the property of the City.

Furthermore, the museum directors say they were responsible for a $1.5 million expansion of the Pan Am pool which was supposed to provide more room for the hall of fame. Now that they've been given the boot, the city was wrongfully enriched by the expansion and they should be paid back, plus the costs of moving, plus the cost of the display cases they left behind.

Susan Thompson, the Mayor at that time of the Pan Am pool expansion, says the City negotiated with the other levels of government to raise the money to expand the pool facility, and there was never a deal with the Aquatic Hall of Fame for exclusive use.

City lawyers are now preparing to argue the 1973 agreement doesn't say what it says.

What is it honey? It's a present, because I love you so much.

Once he was considered one of Winnipeg's movers and shakers. Now he's hiding behind his wife's skirts to avoid his creditors.

A flock of creditors thought they had won a victory when they successfully sued Costas Ataliotis to get $875,000 by seizing his house at 604 Park Boulevard. They registered the judgment in the Winnipeg Land Titles Office on June 1st, 2007.

But on June 25, Suzanne Ataliotis, wife of Costas, told them to stick it because she, and not her husband, owned the house.

The court was told the house was bought in May, 1999 with title initially in both their names. On September 2, 1999 title was transferred to Mrs. Ataliotis alone for the sum of one dollar.

The creditors are arguing she holds title in trust for her husband. At the least he's the "beneficial" owner of half the property.

Mr. Justice Kenneth Hanssen, of Court of Queen's Bench, made the following observations after hearing a motion to get the registration of the judgement tossed:

[16] While Mrs. Ataliotis has been the sole registered owner of 604 Park Boulevard since 1999 there is evidence that in 2003 Mr. Ataliotis’s assistant Marion Murphy provided two credit unions with a net worth statement in which Mr. Ataliotis represented he had a 100% ownership in the property as a joint tenant. As well he listed 604 Park Boulevard under his real estate holdings. There is also evidence that in 2003 a copy of the net worth statement was provided to Culease Financial Services with Mr. Ataliotis’s permission.

[17] Mr. Ataliotis and Mr. Wolinsky were officers and directors of Maple Leaf Distillers Inc. until the company went into receivership in January, 2006. Until then, many of the expenses for 604 Park Boulevard were paid through the Maple Leaf corporate bank account. These expenses were allocated at Mr. Ataliotis’s request to his shareholder’s loan account.

[18] Mrs. Ataliotis’s evidence is that the transfer of the property to her name alone in 1999 for one dollar was essentially a gift from her husband. She claims that she never pledged or permitted the property to be used by her husband for any purpose whatsoever and never allowed the property to be used by her husband to support his personal guarantees. She did not work outside of the home from 1999 to 2007. She says the mortgage payments and other expenses for the property were mostly paid by her husband although some of the money came from her own sources.

[19] At an examination in aid of execution on August 16, 2007, Mr. Ataliotis gave evidence that his wife paid the mortgage payments on the property and he did not recall listing the property in a personal net worth statement. He also testified he never advised any of the financial institutions that one of his real estate holdings was 604 Park Boulevard. He says the property was transferred to his wife’s name on the advice of his accountants KPMG who told him it was a prudent thing to do.

"... findings of credibility will be necessary, I am satisfied a trial is required." he wrote.

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