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Christie Blatchford

Winnipeg judge's story a cautionary tale with a modern twist Add to ...

"Excuse me," Jack King said several times, before putting down the phone.

He was obviously fighting for composure and his voice was thick with emotion or embarrassment or both. "This is very difficult."

The 64-year-old Winnipeg lawyer whose online postings seven years ago of sexually graphic pictures of his wife now threaten her career as a Manitoba judge recently spoke to The Globe and Mail in an exclusive telephone interview.

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"What I did was my mistake, my problem," he said. "Why did I do what I did?" he asked aloud at one point. "I think I needed escape."

Mr. King was adamant that his wife, Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice Lori Douglas, who last week temporarily stepped aside to take up administrative duties after the story broke on CBC television, knew absolutely nothing of what he was doing - either his posting the pictures and advertisements or sending a former client, Alexander Chapman, suggestive e-mails about her.

"I have to say I feel absolutely lacerated by the CBC," he said, "and they doubly lacerated my wife. … She, despite their innuendo, was completely the innocent party."

Mr. King, who represented Mr. Chapman in divorce proceedings, said his inappropriate conversations with, and overtures to, the 44-year-old computer specialist didn't begin until after his divorce became final.

Despite signing a July, 2003, confidentiality agreement for a $25,000 payday from Mr. King and purportedly returning or destroying all the pictures and e-mails the lawyer had sent him, Mr. Chapman did nothing of the sort.

Instead, in July of this year, he filed a complaint about Mr. King with the Law Society of Manitoba, then approached the CBC with copies of the e-mails and photographs. The network broadcast the story on Aug. 31.

Mr. King only learned the hard truth about posting naked pictures of his wife online when the law society notified him of Mr. Chapman's complaint.

"I hope my marriage will survive," Mr. King said, "but I don't know if it will."

The couple have been married or lived together for 15 years, and have a teenage son.

At the time the pictures were posted in the late spring of 2003, Mr. King was by his account disintegrating under several disparate pressures.

Three years before, his sister and brother-in-law were among white commercial farmers in his native Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, whose land was illegally seized without compensation.

"Over the next two years," Mr. King said, "everything they worked for was taken away from them. All the people they looked after, 200 people, were destroyed."

At the same time, Mr. King was watching as his best friend, who fell ill in 2000, got "progressively sicker." He died shortly before Christmas of 2002.

"He had gone in [to hospital]one day and he was dead the next," Mr. King said.

He was to have been a pallbearer for his friend, but was instead heading to Australia to see his youngest brother, who was ill with cancer and who died a few months later in May, 2003.

On top of that, Mr. King said, there was the "enormous, unremitting pressure" to perform at the downtown Winnipeg law firm, Thompson, Dorfman, Sweatman, where he and Judge Douglas then both practised family law.

When the law firm's managing partner told him that June that he had received what was essentially a demand letter from Mr. Chapman's lawyer, alleging sexual harassment and allegedly seeking $100,000, Mr. King had to come clean.

"I had to face up to what I'd done," he said. "I went and got help, I got very good help." He was diagnosed with clinical depression, was put on medication, left the law firm and was off work for a year before starting up his own small practice.

He paid the $25,000 personally, he said, his former firm quite properly not agreeing to the payout. "They didn't consent," Mr. King said.

Mr. Chapman is hardly without blemish himself.

In 1993, he was convicted under another name, Lenard Quaccoo, of arson, theft and uttering death threats in connection with his hiring of a man to set another estranged wife's home on fire.

Mr. Chapman said last week in court - this at a quietly convened hearing where he was ordered to hand over all his materials involving Judge Douglas - that he has since received a pardon for those offences. He has also twice sued the Winnipeg police.

Judge Douglas, who was appointed to the bench in May, 2005, by the Liberal federal government of the day and elevated to associate chief justice four years later by a Conservative one, is widely regarded as an excellent judge.

The reminder of the age-old perils of dealing with what appears to be blackmail aside, this story has one modern twist.

As Frank Work, Alberta's information and privacy commissioner, noted in an e-mail on Tuesday, "I am all the more concerned as communications technology evolves and presents a world where nothing - no indiscretion, no stupid, regrettable word, no fit of pique, no foot in mouth - will be forgotten.

"Your permanent record is now … permanent."

Mr. Work said he worries for younger generations. "They may not get to enjoy the absolution for their sins that comes with time and forgetfulness."

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