Debate over the appropriate conduct of judges in their private lives burns stronger than ever after the Canadian Judicial Council’s decision yesterday to fully investigate a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint against a top Manitoba judge.
Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba Associate Chief Justice Lori Douglas stepped aside from her courtroom role last summer after the complaint arrived at the CJC. The allegations come from Alex Chapman, who was a client of the judge’s husband, Winnipeg lawyer Jack King.
Chapman claims King pressured him to have sex with Douglas, and showed him naked pictures posted online of the judge performing sex acts. King said Douglas was unaware both of the photos being posted online and his actions with Chapman.
The announcement issued yesterday by the CJC came after Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Neil Wittmann, vice chairman of the CJC’s committee of council, considered that complaint and determined it was worthy of further consideration. The council emphasized that no conclusions have been drawn on the allegations.
A review panel of five judges will now take command of the file and decide whether the matter should be closed, or passed along for further consideration. The judges may opt to forward the file to a lawyer for investigation, seek remedial measures, voice their concern to the judge, or take the extraordinary step of striking a public inquiry committee.
Meanwhile, Wittmann closed the book on a second complaint against Douglas. It involved allegations by an unnamed complainant suggesting Douglas had a personal relationship with the complainant’s ex-husband, and therefore shouldn’t have heard their divorce case. Wittmann found no evidence to back those claims.
As per CJC complaints procedures, an independent lawyer was called in to review the complaints against Douglas, as she is a council member. Wendy Harris of Vancouver’s Harris and Co. agreed that the second complaint was baseless.
Chapman’s allegations stem from a time when Douglas and King were lawyers at Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP in Winnipeg. The Law Society of Manitoba looked into the photos in 2003, and King went on medical leave. A hearing into professional misconduct allegations against him is pending.
Chapman’s allegations have generated lively discussion in the profession about the appropriate conduct of judges — and in this case, future judges — in their private lives. Some say the alleged actions would have no bearing on judges’ ability to do their jobs, while others argue they could hurt public confidence in the judiciary.
The profession anxiously awaits the CJC’s stance.