Couple who killed four family members sued by former lawyer over legal fees

Shafia and wife sued by former lawyer

A couple convicted of killing their three teenage daughters and another family member are being sued by the woman’s former lawyer, who alleges he is owed nearly $135,000 in legal fees.

John David Crowe alleges Mohammad Shafia and his wife Tooba Yahya “have failed, refused or neglected to make any payment whatsoever” to clear Yahya’s outstanding legal bills in the five years since their trial ended, save for one cheque shortly after their conviction.

In his statement of claim, Crowe says Shafia had agreed to pay his wife’s legal costs and had previously made several payments by cheque.

But the couple argues in their statement of defence that Shafia made no such arrangement, and say Yahya’s bills were paid off with a $20,000 cheque in February 2012.

The lawsuit is being heard in a Kingston, Ont., court this week. 

The pair were found guilty in 2012 of four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of daughters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, and Shafia’s first wife in a polygamous marriage, 52-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad.

Their son, Hamed, was also convicted of the same offences but is not a target of the lawsuit.

Aside from the legal fees he alleges he is owed, Crowe is also seeking nearly $9,000 in interest. In his claim, the lawyer says bills were to be paid on receipt with interest set to kick 30 days later at a rate of five per cent annually.

Crowe alleges he has “repeatedly requested payment” but received nothing after the February 2012 cheque.

Yahya, meanwhile, says in court documents that the lawyer told her at the end of the trial that only $20,000 was left on her tab, which was paid a month later.

A short while later, Crowe gave her a statement of accounts that showed her balance owing was close to $67,000, which was “inconsistent” with the amount given verbally, she says.

She also alleges Crowe’s hourly rate fluctuated significantly throughout the statement of account he provided, ranging from $350 to $450 at various times.

Yahya argues the amount claimed by the lawyer is “excessive, grossly exaggerated and should be assessed by the court.”

Though Shafia acknowledges he helped pay his wife’s legal bills, he denies ever making “any verbal or written agreement” to do so.

Both are seeking to have the suit dismissed and their costs reimbursed. Yahya is also asking the court to assess the lawyer’s billing.

Shafia, Yahya and Hamed have been in custody since their arrests on July 22, 2009, and will have to spend at least 25 years from that date behind bars before they can apply for full parole.

Their bid for a new trial was quashed late last year after Ontario’s top court ruled among other things that expert evidence on so-called honour killings had been properly admitted at their trial and the son was properly tried as an adult.

The victims’ bodies were found on June 30, 2009, in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal in Kingston, Ont.

The Crown at the trial asserted the murders were committed after the girls “shamed” the family by dating and acting out, and Amir Mohammad was simply disposed of.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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