Basiga Law Firm in the News

October 2016

Bienfait Rukiza will be sentenced Friday for attack on developmentally delayed woman who had waved at him

Bienfait Rukiza says he finally understands.

“I want to say that, first of all, I am a God-fearing man,” he said Thursday to Superior Court Justice Lynne Leitch.

“That said, I am remorseful for the victim and the victim’s family.”

It is a change of attitude from a man who pleaded guilty, changed his mind and then pleaded guilty again “absolutely” to sexually assaulting a vulnerable, mentally delayed woman who waved at him.

Rukiza, 25, will be sentenced Friday morning. If Leitch accepts the joint position from the Crown and the defence, he will have only a few weeks left to serve on his sentence.

But it hasn’t been easy for the man who has a history of mental illness and who has been in the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre for more than a year.

He is on medication for psychosis and auditory hallucinations.

Rukiza was arrested Feb. 6, 2015, after he was found in bed at the home of the woman’s relative. Feb. 6, 2015,

The woman, who was 26 at the time of the attack and whose identity is protected by court order, was alone at the house. Her relative who helped with her care had gone out.

She functions at the age of an eight-year-old child.

The woman was known for sitting at the kitchen window at the front of the house and waving to people as they walked by.

Assistant Crown attorney George Christakos told Leitch that between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Feb. 6, 2015, she waved at Rukiza, who decided to walk into the house.

He started to kiss the woman and continued even though she told him to stop and leave. At some point, he removed her clothing and attempted to have sex with her.

Christakos said the woman didn’t consent and “repeatedly said he’s not her boyfriend and didn’t want to do this.”

Rukiza shared some of his bottle of vodka.

The relative came home, saw the alcohol and asked the woman who had been in the house. The woman said the man was up in her room.

Police were called and Rukiza was arrested. He was wearing a T-shirt and underwear. He told the police he wasn’t sure if he had been able to have sex with the woman. He knew she was mentally delayed but figured, because of her age, there was nothing wrong with what he did.

Police interviewed one of Rukiza’s friends who said Rukiza had mentioned that “he should go have sex with her.”

The friend told him “it was not a good idea.”

Rukiza’s defence lawyer Brendon Basiga said the Crown and the defence had come up with a joint sentencing submission of two years less a day, plus three years of probation to keep Rukiza supervised. “My heart goes out to the victim’s family and equally to Bienfait and his family,” he said.

His parents and sister were in the courtroom and Basiga said they have been an unwavering source of support for his client.

“It’s a terrible situation but not a situation done by a terrible person,” he said.

Rukiza had no prior criminal record. He was released on bail nine days after his arrest, but was arrested in June 2015 for breaching his conditions for drinking alcohol.

His mother, who had been his bail surety, had turned him in. Rukiza has been in custody ever since.

With the enhanced credit of one-and-a-half days for every day in jail, Rukiza would have about 42 days left to serve, should Leitch accept the sentencing pitch.

Rukiza’s plan, Basiga said, is to live with his family. “He will be very, very closely supervised by his family as well.”

Leitch was concerned about Rukiza’s first pre-sentence report, written after his first guilty plea almost a year ago. He told the report’s author that he believed the victim’s family “had exaggerated” and wanted recognition for his story.

Basiga couldn’t comment on that report because he wasn’t Rukiza’s lawyer at the time but said there has been “a significant change” with Rukiza showing remorse for the victim’s family.

Christakos agreed with Basiga that it was difficult to balance the enormity of the crime with Rukiza’s obvious mental health issues.

He noted that Rukiza had targeted the “helpless, innocent and developmentally delayed young lady.

“Being drunk on alcohol or high on drugs is not an excuse,” he said.

But by finally pleading guilty Rukiza had spared her testifying, Christakos said. There would have been some challenges prosecuting the case because of her deficits.

He said he met with the woman and her family a month ago — “a sweet and wonderful woman,” he said.

Leitch is expected to decide the case Friday morning.

Original Article Link – http://www.lfpress.com/2016/10/20/bienfait-rukiza-will-be-sentenced-friday-for-attack-on-developmentally-delayed-woman-who-had-waved-at-him

Local lawyers offer free legal advice to community

Attorney Brendon Basiga

Attorney Brendon Basiga

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – In a perfect world you would hope that all legal issues be handled honestly and fairly based on facts but that’s not the case all the time.

In some situations, Americans are forced to choose between breaking the bank for legal advice or doing their own homework on law.

But tonight, lawyers in Ingham County lent a generous hand and provided free consultation to those in need of help in dire situations.

“We’ve been doing this event for a number of years now and we feel it’s a great way that we can give back to the community,” said Raymond Harris, Co-chair of the Ingham County Bar Association’s “Ask a Lawyer” event.

Legal issues can be daunting and scary to handle, but thanks to Lansing’s annual “Ask a Lawyer” event, attorney’s including Mark Kellogg used their expertise to give people peace of mind.

“People want to be heard and so you listen and then try to probably direct them or guide them in the best manner that would be most helpful to them,” said Mark Kellogg, Attorney at Fraser Trebilcock.

Former Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield believes those tackling legal issues are confused and unsure of the path they need to take.

“I think people don’t really know where to go and they don’t really know where to begin, like ok they need a lawyer maybe or some legal advice but there’s so many lawyers and they all seem to work in different areas of the law that it’s hard to know like who’s the best person to talk to just get some advice,” Manderfield stated.

From criminal law, to unemployment lawyers from all areas of law gathered around the room to provide their services.

And the biggest legal issue people face…

“Landlord tenant issues, family law issues and then some personal injury type questions or issues in the criminal law,” Kellogg said.

But ultimately, for people like Sharlena Phelps, being able to have a one-on-one with an attorney not only lifted her spirits, but helped shed light on her unfortunate situation.

“It was nice to be able to come and have a consultation with somebody who can give you information that you might not necessarily be able to get on your own,” said Phelps.

Depending on the needs of each client, once the consultation ended with the legal experts attorneys would refer people to private law-firms or legal service agencies.

View the article on WLNS: http://wlns.com/2016/10/13/local-lawyers-offer-free-legal-advice-to-community/

Citing London jail drug ‘epidemic,’ judge acquits EMDC guard, inmate of trafficking charges

The jail guard and the inmate: Acquitted.

The jail: Guilty.

A verdict Friday in London cleared a correctional officer and inmate from the embattled Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) of drug-trafficking charges.

The major reasons: Drugs are so prevalent at the provincial jail, and searches so sporadic, there was no way of proving a suspicious transaction between the officer and the inmate led to a treasure trove of marijuana and hash oil found in cells.

“Significant suspicion is raised but the level of proof does not reach the level of beyond reasonable doubt,” Ontario Court Justice John Skowronski ruled.

“Speculation is easy. Proof is not.”

He acquitted Tanya Zavitz, 37, a correctional officer at EMDC, of three counts of drug trafficking, and inmate Nelson Moran, 23, of three counts of trafficking and three counts of possession.

Read More: http://www.lfpress.com/2016/06/10/jail-guard-tanya-zavitz-37-and-inmate-nelson-moran-23-who-are-accused-of-dealing-drugs-at-emdc

Philippines relief effort

Brendon Basiga’s voice breaks when he describes how his new colleagues at the London courthouse have stepped up for him in a time of great need halfway around the world.

Typhoon Haiyan has little to do with criminal law, but in London there is a connection. The worst storm in recorded history has devastated parts of the Philippines — specifically the area where Basiga’s mother grew up.

Basiga’s father, Gordie, is attending medical school in Tacloban, ground zero of the typhoon. He decided after a career as a systems analyst with the Canadian government to fulfil his retirement dream of becoming a doctor.

Gordie Basiga survived the typhoon that struck Nov. 8, killing more than 5,000 people and levelling buildings. He’s finally able to make calls to Basiga’s mother in Edmonton. He described the storm as “akin to the wrath of God.”

Brendon Basiga, 34, lives with his wife in Lansing, Mich., can practise law in Ontario, Michigan, Illinois and is sworn into the U.S. federal bar.

He took over a criminal law practice in London, but since the typhoon his thoughts have been have been consumed by the Philippines.

But in a gesture that Basiga calls “phenomenal” and “overwhelming,” a quick collection around the London courthouse netted $1,800 to be sent to the devastated area.

“I was in tears,” he said when the money was given to him. He can’t say thank you enough.

“I don’t even know a lot of these people very well. I’ve only known them for the past year,” he said.

Basiga grew up in Edmonton and his family made regular trips back to his parents’ homeland.

He can’t bring himself to look at the pictures coming out of the ravaged area. He recognizes the streets, houses, churches and businesses.

“I know these people. I’ve met these people This is who I am.”

His parents were planning to retire and have a house there that survived the storm. His father began medical school in Tacloban at age 63.

Once the typhoon hit, Basiga said, they didn’t hear from his father for a “nightmarish” four days. A text message from one of his father’s colleagues confirmed he’d survived and was helping in the recovery efforts.

Basiga has aunts, uncles and cousins in the region. He doesn’t know if they survived through the storm.

Basiga’s father is helping out at the hospital and with the Red Cross. With his perfect English and understanding of local dialects, he’s providing translation services for American and British forces helping out.

Last week, Basiga stayed in Michigan, trying to decide if he would go to the Philippines, too. He and his wife decided the money would be better used to buy generators, gasoline, water, food, clothing and basic essentials.

He may still go in a few months, he says.

“We have a very direct connection. So it’s hard for us to watch from 10,000 miles away.”

Read More: http://www.lfpress.com/2013/12/03/philippines-relief-effort

Attorney: Independent probe clears Weaver of wrongdoing

Flint — An Okemos-based attorney said he found no wrongdoing by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver over allegations by a former city administrator that the mayor misused charity funds.

Brendon Basiga, who conducted an investigation on the matter at the request of the city, said Monday at a press conference at City Hall: “Simply put, I cannot find any evidence of unethical conduct by Mayor Karen Weaver.”

Weaver’s alleged wrongdoing first came to light last month when former Flint City Administrator Natasha Henderson filed a civil lawsuit that alleged she was improperly terminated Feb 12. Henderson claims she was shown the door in retaliation for asking the city attorney to look into the possibility charity funds were being sent to Weaver’s political action committee “Karenabout Flint.”

In a Feb. 10, email to Anthony Chubb, Flint’s legal adviser, Henderson relayed a secret conversation with the mayor’s assistant.

“Ms. Maxine Murray, the Mayor’s Assistant, spoke with me on February 9, 2016 while in the supply room of the Mayor’s Executive Office and reported an alleged conduct,” Henderson wrote.

“… Specifically, Ms. Murray fearfully stated that Mayor Weaver asked her and a volunteer in the Mayor’s Office to direct donations to a fund named Karenabout Flint created by Miller Canfield that I am unaware of and asked if she would be guilty of a crime to direct potential donors to this fund when they call the Mayor’s Office. I am only aware of a fund approve by Resolution of the Council named Safe Water/Safe Homes to be administered by the Community Foundation of Greater Flint that will be presented today for approval by the RTAB (Receivership Transition Advisory Board).

“As you are Chief Legal Counsel, please promptly initiate an investigation of this matter in your capacity. In the meantime, please advise appropriate actions I can take to protect employees from potential retaliation resulting from them reporting allegations such as this.”

Two days after sending that email, Henderson was fired. She had served as Flint’s city administrator since February 2015 after being appointed to the post by then-Emergency Manager Darnell Earley.

“In a community where the current water crisis repeatedly exposed how people failed to do the right thing, Ms. Henderson did the right thing and was fired for it,” said Henderson’s attorney, Katherine Smith Kennedy, last month. “Her goal was to ensure the integrity of the city at a time when its reputation has taken many blows. Instead, she was penalized for bringing forward these concerns.”

According to Basiga, he was provided bank statements by the city for a Friends of Karen Weaver fund and Karen for Flint fund. Basiga never addressed a Karenabout Flint fund and took no questions Monday.

“Neither bank statements indicate any questionable deposits, and the donation checks that were made or supported by the copies of the checks themselves,” Basiga said Monday.

Basiga was retained by the mayor’s chief legal officer, Stacy Erwin Oakes, to investigate the claims in Henderson’s lawsuit, including whether Weaver was diverting water crisis donations to personal funds.

To Basiga’s understanding, the checks in question related to the allegations “were turned over to attorney Erwin Oakes.”

Erwin Oakes said Monday the checks were delivered to her “on or about March 30th; those checks were subsequently sent to the Chief Financial Officer.”

According to Erwin Oakes, the money was donated to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

Within days of the lawsuit being filed last month, Weaver defended herself in an official statement, calling the allegations against her “outrageously false.”

Appearing after the presser conference on Monday, Weaver said the most disturbing part about the allegations “are just that.”

“They’re allegations, and that they’re not true,” she said.

Weaver was evasive, for apparent legal reasons, in answering further details about the case. Although she did say she was “glad that this investigation has happened, and I’m glad that it is over.”

Read More: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/michigan/flint-water-crisis/2016/06/13/flint-mayor-investigation/85826580/