The inquiry into a Manitoba judge whose nude photos appeared on the Internet may be halted over complaints that the inquiry committee is biased.
Sheila Block, the lawyer representing Manitoba Justice Lori Douglas, said Thursday that questions from the inquiry committee have amounted to “withering, rapid-fire, aggressive cross-examination.”
“It revealed one-side views. They were not follow-up, clarifying questions,” Ms. Block said.
“The remedy … is that the committee should stand down and terminate these proceedings.”
The inquiry by the Canadian Judicial Council includes the chief justices of three other provinces. It is examining whether Douglas, an associate chief justice in the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, should lose her job because of a controversy that began when her husband, Jack King, harassed a client.
In 2003, when Douglas and King were family law lawyers at the same firm, King uploaded sexually explicit photos of Douglas to a website dedicated to interracial sex and said his wife was looking for a black partner. He also e-mailed photos to a client named Alexander Chapman, who is black, and asked him to have sex with Douglas.
Chapman complained to the law firm and King settled the matter within weeks by paying Chapman $25,000 to return all the photos and to never discuss the matter. Chapman broke that deal in 2010 and complained to the judicial council, insisting Douglas was part of the sexual harassment.
The inquiry is also examining whether Douglas failed to disclose the matter when she was appointed a judge in 2005 and whether the very existence of the photos disqualifies her from continuing as a judge.
Douglas has denied all the allegations. She and King have said King did everything without her knowledge.
Block’s complaint of bias is based on questions Wednesday from George Macintosh, the lawyer who asks questions on behalf of the inquiry committee members. He went after King, who testified Douglas never knew what King had done with the naked photos, some of which showed her in bondage gear or performing sex acts.
Macintosh seemed incredulous at King’s suggestion that Douglas never looked at or asked about the nude photos, some of which were taken with a Polaroid instant camera that shoots pictures out immediately.
“So (the picture) is there, the camera’s there, you’re there, your wife is there. You didn’t hide it, did you?” Macintosh asked.
Macintosh and King also butted heads when Macintosh pointed to evidence from one of King’s former law partners, who said that King had told him Douglas knew about some of the Internet photos.
“That is completely inconsistent with the proposal that your wife knew absolutely nothing,” Macintosh said.
The inquiry committee was to make its decision on whether to halt the proceedings Friday morning.
Guy Pratte, the independent lawyer leading the inquiry and who represents the public interest, agreed with Block that Macintosh’s questioning had gone too far.
“The appearance is incontestable that it was a strong and co-ordinated attack on the witness,” Pratte said.
“If inquisition is to be done, it has to be done by independent counsel. You cannot descend into the arena,” he told the inquiry committee.
Pratte stopped short of calling for a halt to proceedings, but said “at the very least,” the tone of questions from Macintosh must change.
The committee members include Derek Green, the chief justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, Jacqueline Matheson, chief justice of Prince Edward Island, and Catherine Fraser, chief justice of Alberta, who is the committee chairwoman.
The hearing is a rarity. The Canadian Judicial Council has only held them nine times across the country in 40 years. It has only once recommended that a judge be removed.
In 2009, the council recommended to the federal government that Paul Cosgrove be removed as a justice of the Ontario Superior Court due to incompetence and abuse of his powers.