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Twists and turns in Sturgis lawsuit

Ray Sasseville - Lachlan Labere/Observer
Ray Sasseville
— image credit: Lachlan Labere/Observer

‘Surprisingly complicated’ is how a defence lawyer describes portions of the legal action initiated by Ray Sasseville, Joan Hansen and Sturgis North Entertainment Inc. involving motorcycle events they put on in the North Okanagan-Shuswap.

After launching the lawsuit in BC Supreme Court in December 2013, in March of this year Sasseville and Hansen began the process to drop the court action against six of the seven defendants.

Adding to the mix, Gerhard A. Pyper, the lawyer who initiated the lawsuit on the plaintiffs’ behalf, has been suspended by the Law Society of British Columbia.

Salmon Arm lawyer Rodney Chorneyko is representing four of the seven defendants.

“It’s very odd. I’ve never had so many twists and turns simply for plaintiffs to abandon their claims so early – there’s so much complication to get documents finalized,” Chorneyko told the Observer.

Chorneyko is representing Steve Hammer, site manager for the 2011 Sturgis North motorcycle rally; the Sicamous and District Chamber of Commerce; Renée Charbonneau who publishes a blog and newspaper for the motorcycle community; and Bernie Aubin, an entertainment provider.

Also named as defendants are the municipality of Sicamous and current mayor Darrel Trouton, represented by lawyer Larry Robinson, as well as camping provider Vincent Lewis from Vernon, represented by Nick Vlahos.

According to the initial claim, Sicamous is named because Sturgis North entered into an agreement to hold an annual event there beginning in 2011 called the Sturgis North Burn-out and Festival. The plaintiffs alleged the event was wrongfully taken over and became the Summer Stomp Burn-out.

The chain of events in the lawsuit includes court documents registered Jan. 3 and 14 this year, in which Sasseville gives notice that he intends to represent himself in place of Pyper, his lawyer.

In a June 26 letter a client forwarded to the Observer, Chorneyko writes: “It is not usual for counsel to cease representing a party, but it is unusual for that to occur with plaintiffs’ counsel so soon after commencement of a claim...”

After the initial claim, Chorneyko filed an application to have the proceedings transferred to Salmon Arm.

Next, Pyper sent documents to the defendants declaring that the plaintiffs were volunteering to abandon their claims against all the defendants except Renée Charbonneau.

“Again, it is not unusual for disputes to settle but it is unusual for plaintiffs to effectively abandon their claims so soon after commencing the proceeding. It is also unusual for there to be no settlement discussions preceding the settlement,” wrote Chorneyko.

The documents in which Sasseville, Hansen and Sturgis North Entertainment Inc. dismiss their claims have not yet been processed by the Vancouver court registry, but Chorneyko said he believes it is because of a backlog at the registry, not because anything is amiss.

Neither Sasseville nor Hansen could be reached for comment.

Regarding Pyper, rather than holding a hearing on whether to suspend the lawyer,  the law society used its ability to take immediate action to protect the public. The society applied to the court to take over as custodian of Pyper’s practice when he was suspended in late May. No details on why Pyper was suspended are forthcoming because the complaint is being investigated.

The suspension may delay a resolution to the legal action.

In an earlier interview, Chorneyko described the claims by the plaintiffs as frivolous.

Sasseville and Hansen were behind the Sturgis North Motorcycle Rally and Music Festival held in Salmon Arm in July 2011 and the 2012 event near Vernon at the Spallumcheen Motoplex Speedway and Event Park.

An event is planned for Merritt in August, with the name changed to Sturgis Canada.

While the first two events received some good and some poor reviews from participants, both events left debts behind them. A lawsuit initiated in 2012 by the motoplex seeking close to $400,000 from Sturgis North Encore Productions Inc. remains before the courts, and some Salmon Arm businesses owed money since 2011 have still not been paid.

In contrast to the legal action he initiated, Sasseville is currently one of those named in an investigation by the BC Securities Commission into the illegal distribution of securities in 2007 for Wireless Wizard Technologies Inc., whose products were purported to include a GPS system for motorcycles.

A hearing is set for October.

In a separate case in 2003, Sasseville faced allegations of illegal distribution of securities and was prohibited from engaging in investor relations activities for a minimum of three years.

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