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Manitoba judge steps aside amidst complaint about nude photos Add to ...

Can a judge continue to sit on the bench after it comes to light she was in sexually explicit photographs that her husband posted to a porn website?

The Canadian Judicial Council is grappling with that question as it considers the case of Lori Douglas, an associate chief justice in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench who this week saw public disclosure of her sexual activity from seven years ago - two years before she was appointed to the bench.

The council confirmed it is reviewing a complaint against Judge Douglas.

Judge Douglas opted Wednesday to be removed from the bench while that review is being done, though she will remain in her position in an administrative capacity.

The complaint involves Alexander Chapman, who alleges that Judge Douglas's husband, lawyer Jack King, showed him sexually explicit photos of Judge Douglas in 2003 and tried to convince him into have sex with her.

At the time, Judge Douglas and Mr. King were lawyers at the same firm, and Mr. King had handled Mr. Chapman's divorce, said Mr. King's lawyer, Bill Gange. Mr. King was suffering from depression, Mr. Gange said, and was acting without his wife's knowledge.

"Jack did make a mistake. He acknowledges that he made a mistake ... but that's a mistake by Jack, not a mistake by Lori," Mr. Gange said Wednesday.

"What Lori and Jack do in their house is entirely their business."

But the photos spread far beyond the couple's home. Mr. Chapman told the CBC this week some of the pictures depicted Judge Douglas in bondage and were posted on a pornographic website. Mr. Gange has said Judge Douglas did not know the pictures were being posted online by her husband.

Some legal experts think the explicit material means Judge Douglas cannot continue as a justice.

"I think that no judge who has a cloud of scandal hanging over their heads is able to ... act effectively as a member of the judiciary," said Annalise Acorn, a law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in ethics.

"I simply think it's not consistent with the image of dignity and authority that the judiciary needs to have."

Prof. Acorn said she would be "flabbergasted" if Judge Douglas stays on as a judge, and expects she might resign in the coming days.

But others say a judge is entitled to the same type of personal life as anyone else.

"She agreed to have sex pictures taken of herself, and that's all that she ever agreed to," said Karen Busby, a law professor at the University of Manitoba.

"If that's a reason to disqualify somebody from being a judge, given that I venture most people have sex pictures out there somewhere, then it's an impossible standard for anyone to meet to become a judge."

Judge Douglas may have had to disclose the photos when she was vetted for her judicial appointment in 2005. Mr. Gange says she did, but he doesn't know how much she knew about he husband's actions at the time.

The Canadian Judicial Council said Wednesday it expects to deal with the issue within three months. The council has a range of options, such as ordering a judge to undergo counselling or recommending that the judge be removed from the bench - a move that requires approval in Parliament.

The council has only made such a recommendation twice. Most recently, the council recommended the removal of Justice Paul Cosgrove from the Ontario Superior Court last year for "pervasive" misconduct at a 1999 murder trial. Judge Cosgrove resigned before the issue came before Parliament.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to comment on the controversy Wednesday.

"It would be completely inappropriate for the prime minister to comment on matters that are before the Canadian Judicial Council," he told reporters in Mirabel, Que.

Judge Douglas's husband, meanwhile, is also being investigated. The Law Society of Manitoba is reviewing how Mr. King dealt with Mr. Chapman. That has upset Mr. King's lawyer, who says Mr. Chapman tried to get a lot of money out of Mr. King to return the photos in 2003, and eventually agreed to settle the matter privately.

"He wanted $100,000 ... but he accepted $25,000," Mr. Gange said.

"There's a certification letter that Mr. Chapman was returning all documents to me. There was a confidentiality clause in the agreement ... and he was happy to sign."

Mr. Gange hinted he may pursue Mr. Chapman for breaking the confidentiality agreement.

Mr. Chapman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Mr. King left the law firm in 2003 and took a year off, during which time he sought "medical help," according to Mr. Gange. He returned to work in private practice in 2004.

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