Newly independent MLA Derek Fildebrandt could not have damaged his neighbour’s vehicle because he was in a caucus meeting at the time of the alleged accident.
That is the defence Fildebrandt’s recently hired lawyer will present to an Edmonton court Sept. 6 when the hit-and-run trial for the Strathmore-Brooks MLA continues.
“Mr. Fildebrandt is denying the allegations that he was involved in the accident and will be maintaining that at the time that this took place, he was in a [Wildrose caucus] meeting and could not have been the person who was involved in the accident,” Calgary lawyer Dale Fedorchuk said.
Fedorchuk said Fildebrandt has told him he has witnesses who will testify on his behalf, but the lawyer said he has yet to interview them.
Fildebrandt hired Fedorchuk on Tuesday, the same day CBC News revealed he is facing a 2016 hit-and-run charge for allegedly backing his half-ton truck into a neighbour’s van, causing an estimated $2,000 in damage, and then driving off.
Fildebrandt resigned from the United Conservative Party caucus six hours after CBC posted the story, claiming media scrutiny surrounding him was distracting the nascent party from its work, and from its leadership race.
The MLA’s tenure within the party — and his political credibility, experts said — had already been jeopardized by a pair of expense scandals.
Last week, Fildebrandt was outed for renting his government-subsidized downtown condo on Airbnb. Initially defiant, he later apologized, said he would pay the province the $2,555 he earned from the sublets, and took a leave from his role as finance critic.
Then earlier this week, Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark released records that suggested Fildebrandt claimed food expenses while also claiming per diems for the same meals.
Fildebrandt blamed the double-billing — $192.60 over more than two years — on “administrative errors” but said he took full responsibility for the mistakes and would reimburse any discrepancies.
Caucus meeting scheduled at time of alleged accident
Fildebrandt initially represented himself on the hit-and-run charge. He appeared in court in February and succeeded in getting the trial adjourned after he claimed there were roughly 22 “relatively important people” who could testify he was with them at the time of the alleged accident.
Before the Wildrose Party merged with the Progressive Conservatives to create the United Conservative Party, there were 22 Wildrose MLAs, including Fildebrandt.
A United Conservative spokesperson confirmed that when the alleged hit-and-run occurred — about 7:45 a.m. on June 6, 2016 — Wildrose MLAs had a regularly scheduled meeting. But the spokesperson could not definitively say that Fildebrandt attended the meeting.
The complainant in the case, Amy Rawlinson, told the court she was sitting on her ground-floor balcony when she saw Fildebrandt, who she recognized as a neighbour, walk to his red Ford F-150 pickup truck, back into her company van with a loud bang, and then drive away.
Rawlinson also testified she reported the accident to the police that day and managed to get the licence plate number of Fildebrandt’s truck the next day. At the time of the incident, she did not know Fildebrandt’s name or that he was an MLA.
‘Inconsistencies’ in witness testimonies
CBC News provided Fedorchuk with a copy of the court transcript containing the testimony of Rawlinson and the investigating police officer and he said he immediately found problems.
“There appear to be some inconsistencies between the Crown witnesses that could lead to a conclusion that identification hasn’t been properly established and that Mr. Fildebrandt has not been identified as the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident.” Fedorchuk said.
Fedorchuk is a co-founder of the Guardian Law Group in Calgary, along with former Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis and Donna Gee. Both Denis and Fildebrandt are staunch supporters of Jason Kenney in the UCP leadership race that also includes former Wildrose leader Brian Jean.
There is no love lost between Fildebrandt and Jean, who had previously suspended him from the Wildrose caucus for a comment he made in response to a homophobic Facebook post about Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne.
Earlier this month, Fildebrandt, who had been touted as a potential leadership candidate, announced he would not be seeking the leadership. He used the news conference as an opportunity to take a parting shot at Jean, saying that Jean was not the best man to lead the party and the province.
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