When Gatien Fournier was named to the Quebec Court last March, the news scarcely made a ripple. Times have changed as Premier Jean Charest faces a political crisis.
Mr. Fournier's appointment, which will be formalized Wednesday, comes just as Mr. Charest's Liberal government is grappling with a controversy over alleged political influence on judicial appointments. And Mr. Fournier's deep Liberal Party connections will probably fuel that criticism.
The controversy exploded last week when former justice minister Marc Bellemare claimed that party fundraisers had a say in the selection of judges - and that Premier Charest was aware of it. The Premier denied the charge absolutely and commenced a libel suit when Mr. Bellemare refused to withdraw his claims. (Instead, the former minister lodged a formal police complaint.)
Mr. Charest appointed former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache to head an inquiry into the allegations and now declines to comment on the matter.
Mr. Fournier has every qualification to sit with the Quebec Court. A member of the Quebec bar since 1989, he was a director of corporate and legal affairs for construction and engineering firms before taking a position in 2001 with the Tax Law Services Section of the Department of Justice in Ottawa.
He is also active in the Liberal Party, most recently as a member of the executive of the party's Hull riding association.
Liberal Member of the National Assembly Maryse Gaudreault confirmed that Mr. Fournier has been active for years in the Hull riding association.
"He's been with our Liberal riding association for at least 10 years. We're quite proud. He hasn't been sworn in yet and I hope all of this [controversy]won't delay the ceremony," Ms. Gaudreault said on Sunday.
Mr. Fournier did not respond to five attempts to reach him at his home and office for comments on this story.
Last Friday Justice Minister Kathleen Weil said she had shown a list of potential judicial appointments to the Premier on five occasions. Her comments contradicted Mr. Charest, who had previously insisted that the list was kept confidential and the nomination process independent of any political interference.
That revelation surprised observers of Quebec's courts.
"This is all new to me," said retired University of Laval law professor Patrice Garant, an expert on judicial appointments. "To the best of my knowledge this never used to happen."
Mr. Garant was quick to point out that ties to a political party should not rule out a judicial appointment.
"There are very competent judges with distinguished careers on the bench who were previously active in a political party," Mr. Garant said. "That's not the issue. The question is whether if someone who was not politically active has as much a chance of being appointed judge as someone who is."