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Margaret Wente

The persecution of Lori Douglas Add to ...

Here's a cautionary tale for every woman. Never, never, never allow your husband (or anybody else) to take dirty pictures of you. The pictures could wind up on the Internet. You could be publicly humiliated. You could lose your privacy, your dignity and your career.

That is the awful situation facing Lori Douglas, the Manitoba judge who will soon endure a public inquiry to determine her fitness for the bench. This is an extraordinary event. Since its creation 40 years ago, the Canadian Judicial Council has held only eight public inquiries into the judicial fitness of a judge. All the cases dealt with flagrant behaviour on the bench that obviously compromised a judge's competence and impartiality.

To be sure, there's plenty of misconduct in this sordid tale. But none of it was committed by Judge Douglas. Instead, she has been victimized many times over - first by her disturbed husband, then by an opportunist, then by the media, and now by a judicial oversight body that appears to have caved in to public (i.e., media) pressure

The public pillorying of Lori Douglas began last August, when CBC's The National ran a sensational story with the headline "Naked photographs of a senior Manitoba judge engaged in bondage." The story, decreed Wendy Mesley, raised questions about "the vetting of judges in this country" and whether Ms. Douglas had withheld vital information about her judicial fitness.

The details - supplied by a self-styled victim named Alex Chapman - were deliciously salacious. Back in 2002, Mr. Chapman had hired Ms. Douglas's husband, Jack King, to handle his divorce. Mr. King had a few kinks. He was obsessed with interracial sex. He tried to get Mr. Chapman (who's black) interested in having sex with his wife, who was also a family lawyer at the time. Mr. King had even posted nude pictures of her on a pornographic website. Ms. Douglas knew nothing about any of this.

Mr. Chapman complained to Mr. King's law firm. Mr. King, who left the firm in 2005, paid him $25,000 to settle the matter, and got some much-needed psychological counselling. As part of the settlement, Mr. Chapman agreed to surrender his copies of the dirty pictures.

Meantime, Lori Douglas's career was going much better. In 2005, she was appointed to the bench. She gained a reputation as a highly competent and respected judge, and in 2009 she was promoted to associate chief justice. Manitoba's legal world isn't large, and her husband's personal problems were widely known. There's not a shred of evidence that these problems had any impact on her judging.

But Mr. Chapman wasn't through. Last summer - five years after the settlement - he filed a $10-million lawsuit against Mr. King, a $50-million claim against Mr. King's former law firm, and a $7-million claim against the judge herself. He complained of racial harassment and emotional distress. Conveniently, he had also kept copies of the pictures, which he was more than happy to show the CBC. Since then, his claims have either been dropped or dismissed - but not before the sanctimonious media began demanding the judge's head.

So what was it that Judge Douglas did wrong? According to her critics, she erred back in 2005 by failing to disclose that there was something in her past that might bring the administration of justice into disrepute. (In fact, she candidly discussed the matter during her vetting interviews.) According to some critics, whether or not she disclosed the dirty-pictures incident doesn't even matter. Their mere existence should cost her her job.

Of course we should hold judges to a higher standard than other people. But judges live in the real world. They even have sex lives. Lori Douglas's only crime was to choose an unstable spouse, and have sex with him. If that's enough to lose your job, then a large proportion of our judiciary should be removed.

The judges who will sit in judgment on her should give the public credit for being reasonable adults. Also, they might want to ask themselves: What if this were me? Because it's no stretch to imagine - especially if you're a woman - that it could be.

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