Answered questions relating to his clients "faint hope" clause application
A Vancouver lawyer will start serving a three-week suspension Dec. 2 for answering procedural questions from a prospective juror.
Glen Orris, QC, admitted in a consent agreement that while acting for a client in a criminal matter, he communicated with members of the jury panel to advance or protect his client’s interest, the Law Society of British Columbia said Wednesday in a news release.
During a break in the proceeding, the prospective jurors asked him “questions about the matter and commented on the particular circumstances of Orris’ client.” Orris answered the questions, as well as making comments “in support of his client.”
The law society’s discipline committee accepted the consent agreement between the society and Orris that set out the three-week suspension.
The case dates to April 25, 2019, when in the course of acting for a client in a “faint hope” application, Orris communicated with “persons he knew to be members of the jury panel.” Outside the locked courtroom doors, while waiting for court to commence, Orris responded to a question regarding the “faint hope” process and two comments.
One of the members of the jury panel asked him “What kind of hearing is this? Isn’t it up to the parole board?” (or words to that effect), the consent agreement says. Orris responded to the question by stating “the hearing was simply to determine whether his client’s pre-determined parole ineligibility could be reduced." The ultimate release would be determined by the parole board.
A further question was then asked by either the same person or another jury panel member close by. It was to the effect of “Do we have to decide what he did?” As the crown and defence had an agreed statement of facts which was to be filed as part of the proceedings, Orris answered that the parties had agreed what happened in relation to the murder, and that was something the jury would not have to decide.
At this point in the break, Crown counsel and her and co-counsel returned to the courtroom door. Having heard Orris talking to the jury panel members, the Crown asked to speak with Orris and his junior away from the jury panel members. She then expressed her concern about him speaking with the jurors as they may need to replace one of the panel members.
Orris advised that it was not something he wanted to do and that he was just answering their questions with information they had already been told was not an issue. The Crown then indicated to Orris that it was not appropriate.
A male member of the jury panel then made a comment, in a loud voice, to the effect that he had two friends who had both been convicted of murder, who had been released, and then killed again.
The consent agreement then says that Orris, “believing the comment to be inflammatory and prejudicial to his client” and his application, answered to the effect: “I don’t have any knowledge of that, sir. Such a thing may have occurred, but it is, in my experience, very rare.”
Another comment was made by either the same jury panel member or a different male jury panel member along the lines of “We should still have the death penalty.” Orris responded that he was glad he was working in a justice system that did not have the death penalty.
Immediately after returning to the courtroom, the hearing judge brought to counsel’s attention that the sheriff had advised of four separate jurors having potential ineligibility issues. After being questioned by the hearing judge, four of the selected jurors were discharged from the jury.
The hearing judge then wished to immediately select the four replacement jurors by recalling the remaining jury panel members. At this point, the Crown advised the hearing judge about her concerns regarding Orris’ communications with the remaining jury panel members.
Following submissions concerning the events outside the courtroom door during the break, out of fairness concerns, the hearing judge discharged the jury panel and adjourned the selection of the remaining jurors until April 29, 2019, when they would be selected from a different jury panel.
The consent agreement notes that Orris was “cooperative and apologetic when the matter was brought to the attention of the trial judge and readily agreed to the process for remedying the jury selection issue recommended by Crown Counsel.”
This is not the first time that Orris has had a conduct review relating to his communication with a juror. In 2012, Orris was in the news for exchanging workout tips with a juror at a gym during a murder trial involving one of his clients.
On several occasions, Orris was observed by members of B.C. Sheriff Services talking to a juror for periods of between five to 15 minutes while they worked out in close proximity. The sheriffs advised the judge.
The judge, William Smart, raised the issue with counsel, in the absence of the jury. Orris volunteered that it was likely they had occasionally discussed weightlifting and exchanged pleasantries. He offered to adjust his workout schedule, but the judge indicated it was not necessary.
The judge warned the jury not to communicate with people involved in the trial. That same day, Orris again spoke with the juror at the gym, where he apologized to her for what had happened and accepted full responsibility.
The issue was raised again by the judge after he heard about this encounter from the sheriffs. He conducted an inquiry that included interviewing the juror, who said the conversations did not relate to the trial and her impartiality was not affected.
In his decision, the judge decided it was not necessary to remove the juror from the jury, though he characterized Orris’ conduct as “incomprehensible” and “profoundly wrong.”
The inquiry caused a delay in the proceedings and the judge indicated contact between Orris and the juror could have caused grave consequences by interfering with the juror’s duty to be objective in her decision-making.
Orris, a former football player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, acknowledged during his 2013 conduct review for this incident that there was no excuse for his behaviour and that it was wrong.
He said that his engaging the juror in conversation, even though they did not talk about the trial or anything to do with it, was inappropriate and that he would not greet a juror with more than a brief, informal acknowledgement.
Reached by email, Orris declined to comment on his suspension.