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Juicy details of Manitoba judge's undoing provide grist for myriad pundits

There's a delightful tale about a Toronto Superior Court judge who occasionally hosts groups of high-school students visiting the courthouse and who sometimes even takes questions from them.

"How do you become a judge?" is often asked, and the judge has been known to reply, voice brimming with self-satisfaction, "Well, the government scours the country for the best and brightest lawyers, for the wisest men and women, and then, one day, you get a phone call from the justice minister asking if you'll agree to be a judge."

In your dreams, Your Honour. The facts are rather more prosaic - and chief among them is that you have to apply for the damn job, just like most everyone else does for theirs, and that it helps if you suck and blow before the right people, too, as it so often does.

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I mention this because, thanks to a CBC story on Tuesday, judges and their frailties are much in the news. By the end of Wednesday, Associate Chief Justice Lori Douglas of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench had temporarily stepped down.

The network broke the story about Judge Douglas, saying that a few years before she was made a judge, her lawyer husband, apparently in mid-meltdown, was allegedly posting sexually explicit pictures of her on the Web, advertising her alleged fondness for black men, and essentially trying to set her up with a client.

As stories go, it's a juicy one, and if you're going to run with it, that ought to be reason enough.

But the national broadcaster, of course, had to smarm it up with egregious self-praise about its due diligence, its restraint at not actually using the pictures, its regret at the harm caused and its consultation with "more than a dozen legal figures" who pronounced the telling of the tale legitimate in the quest for accountability in the judiciary.

Several of these august pointy heads were quoted.

One law professor said that any member of the legal community who poses for risqué pictures, even in the privacy of their own home, would be "wildly imprudent and reckless."

Really, professor? My hunch is there are lawyers across the country who would disagree, and that not all of them would have posed for such pics.

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He also said it is "inconceivable" that any lawyer disclosing such a thing would become a judge, but that if no disclosure was made, that would also be a problem.

In fact, he stopped just short of saying that lawyers, particularly those with ambitions for the bench, should simply stop screwing altogether, or at least confine themselves to once a week in the missionary position with the spouse.

Another law professor underlined to the CBC the importance of judicial candidates disclosing all relevant information.

What information is that, sir? One's sexual tastes? One's bedroom practices? One's toilet habits?

He may have meant that if a would-be judge is aware that his or her spouse had posted nude pictures online, it must be disclosed.

But in this case, certainly from what's available in the public domain thus far (the Manitoba Law Society and the Canadian Judicial Council are investigating), that's a whopping big if.

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Judge Douglas's husband, Jack King, was at the time suffering from depression and thereafter took medical leave and sought counselling. He has been back practising for seven years with no complaints. Reading between the lines, it appears Mr. King suffered a major breakdown and that it's entirely possible his wife had no idea what he was doing online.

And really, where and how would one disclose such a thing anyway? On Page 9 of the Personal History Form judges fill out, where it asks, "Is there anything in your past or present which could reflect negatively on yourself or the judiciary, and which should be disclosed?" Check the Yes box and then say, what exactly - "I like being tied up," or "I posed for private sexually explicit pictures with the man I love and then, while he was ill, he posted them for strangers to see?"

And what if she did know? How, in any way, would this so diminish a judge that she couldn't sit? Yet that's what the dean of civil law at the University of Ottawa told the CBC. "If pictures of you naked end up on an Internet site," he said, "it's quite difficult to say you have the credibility to be a judge."

Is he kidding? A judge's credibility depends on legal knowledge, fairness, experience and courtroom manners, not what he does with his member, or what she does with it.

This story emerged because one of Mr. King's former clients - a black man who claims to have been deeply offended by Mr. King's alleged obsessive interest in finding a black partner for his wife - broke a confidentiality agreement he'd signed, and for which he was paid $25,000 by Mr. King, ostensibly because the man feared this matter might have influenced some unrelated civil court actions he was involved in.

Oh, please. It looks to me far more likely that he realized he didn't sufficiently shake down Mr. King at the time, and is merely putting a sheen of respectability on his own conduct. You know, like the CBC did.

In stepping aside, Judge Douglas is but another woman, at least for the moment, done in either by the actions of a man she trusted or by her own sexuality or by both. Ugh.

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