Charles Dickens’ Bleak House is a story of a never ending lawsuit that eventually consumes the entire estate over which the litigation was conducted. That is unlikely to be the case in the current litigation between Morris Waxman and his nephew Warren Waxman as, according to Warren, something approaching $50 Million has already been paid over to Morris by the late Chester Waxman and some of his heirs. All of this stems from the lengthy litigation that started in the 1980’s in which Chester Waxman who co-owned the family business with his brother Morris was found to have tricked his brother into selling his share of the business for less than its value and for taking large bonuses for himself and his sons unknown to Morris. A lawsuit which continues today alleges that Warren has hidden assets, something he denies. A judge has ordered Warren to come up with a long list of details on his current holdings.
There is also litigation between Morris and Chester’s grandson Aaron alleging that key clients of the family firm were improperly induced to join a new metals businesses started up by Aaron, thus depleting the value of the family business before it was forced into bankruptcy. Records show,
Chester’s 17 year old granddaughter recently became upset with a Hamilton Spectator account of the latest chapter in the lawsuit and wrote reporter Steve Arnold defending her parents saying in part., “They are good people. They are hard- working people. They are parents to eight and grandparents to four. Our home is a warm family home not a palatial structure…Nowhere in any of your articles have you ever mentioned that the Morris and Michael Waxman Family have received more than 50 million dollars on their judgments. By omitting that major fact you mislead the public…In your article you are basically supporting people that litigate instead of work and use the court system in an attempt to shake down my family.”
Contacted by the Bay Observer, reporter Arnold acknowledged that he has not reported on the $50 Million payout because he doesn’t believe it to be true. However, none of his stories over the 15 years he has been covering the matter have dealt with the actual amount paid out. Michael Waxman, when contacted said the amount owed by Warren was now in excess of $10 Million. But would not directly address our question about the approximately $50 Million already paid, saying the matter was before the courts.
Under Canada’s libel and slander laws assertions that people make in affidavits and other legal documents are accorded what is called “absolute privilege,” meaning the media can quote from them no matter how biased or even untruthful they may turn out to be. The documents are sworn on, which presumably gives them a cover of validity, but the fact is the number of people charged with making a false statement on these documents is very small.
In an affidavit filed in 2014 Warren stated that $50 Million had been paid to Morris, and in his reply affidavit, Michael Waxman who acts as an advisor to Morris, disputed several of Warren’s assertions but did not dispute the $50 Million figure. He later told the Bay Observer, however, that the $50 Million figure was wrong, but would not provide a correct figure. The Bay Observer was able to identify approximately $46 –odd Million that has been paid, according to court documents—10 Million following the original judgement against Chester and 33 Million paid in a Deloitte bankruptcy expenditure report in 2010. In addition, Chester’s widow was obliged to hand over insurance policies on her life intended for her grandchildren, because the premiums had been paid out of the company until its bankruptcy. Also there is a reference to a $3 Million dollar settlement with Gary Waxman, another of Chester’s sons; but remaining is the $5.2 Million Warren Waxman was ordered to pay as his share of the settlement, plus accumulated interest.
Other affidavits filed in the course of this ongoing legal action demonstrate the wide range of statements that under current libel laws can be published under cover of absolute privilege. For instance one affidavit alleged that a disgruntled former employee of the Waxman firm had received $5,000 in cash from Michael Waxman in exchange for information about Chester and his heirs. If such testimony were given in open court, the information would be highly suspect given that the man in question had been, according to his former girlfriend, stealing from the company, was in financial difficulties due to his use of cocaine and fondness for prostitutes, and the fact that he had been fired by Chester’s grandson; but as a sworn affidavit, is covered under the absolute privilege that is accorded to such a court filing. Most documents sworn in court are responded to by the other side with documents that are also covered by privilege; but nowhere is there a rule forcing journalists to attempt to balance the two versions.