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Deputy Governor General Madam Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, October 1, 2010.

Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press

A prestigious U.S.-based legal group says it is alarmed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's accusation of wrongdoing against Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, and has joined widespread calls from Canadian legal groups to withdraw it.

The American College of Trial Lawyers said in a letter to the Chief Justice, which it released publicly, that it "has viewed with alarm the unwarranted public criticism of your entirely appropriate conduct. … One of our core missions is to champion judicial independence, so we strive to weigh in whenever there is an unfair assault on the judiciary."

The Prime Minister's Office publicly accused Chief Justice McLachlin last week of trying to involve Mr. Harper in an inappropriate discussion about a case that eventually came before the court. The case involved the appointment of Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court. The court eventually ruled Justice Nadon ineligible.

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The Chief Justice said she had decided against contacting the Prime Minister, but had flagged a potential legal issue for Justice Minister Peter MacKay, which she described as appropriate during consultations over an appointment. She said the discussion occurred two months before the Prime Minister named Justice Nadon to the court.

Mr. Harper has rejected calls to withdraw the accusation against the Chief Justice, and the Justice Minister has repeated the accusation in the House of Commons.

The Chief Justice and the other members of the Supreme Court are honorary fellows of the American College of Trial Lawyers. The college's website says its fellows are by invitation only, and represent the top 1 per cent of trial lawyers in any state or province.

"We are deeply concerned about what we believe to be unjustified criticism of Chief Justice McLachlin relating to steps she took on behalf of the Supreme Court of Canada in the context of the anticipated appointment process of a new Justice from the Province of Quebec to the Supreme Court of Canada," president Robert Byman said in a statement separate from the letter to the Chief Justice.

"The facts show that her actions were entirely proper and totally within the duties and responsibilities of her judicial office, and to suggest otherwise is an unwarranted attack upon the judiciary."

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