The inquiry into a Manitoba judge whose nude photos were posted on the Internet will continue.
A Canadian Judicial Council committee rejected calls from lawyer Sheila Block for the hearing to be shut down on the grounds it was biased against her client, Justice Lori Douglas.
Block was upset over the way the lawyer who represents the inquiry committee questioned some witnesses. She called it “aggressive” and “withering” and she asked for the committee to stand down and for the inquiry to be terminated.
The chairwoman of the inquiry committee, Justice Catherine Fraser, defended the questioning.
“By definition, an inquiry … is a search for the truth. We are bound to pursue it,” Fraser said.
The inquiry has been examining allegations that Douglas sexually harassed a man nearly a decade ago and failed to disclose the matter when she was appointed a judge in 2005.
In 2003, when Douglas and her husband, Jack King, were family law lawyers at the same firm, King uploaded nude photos of Douglas to a website dedicated to interracial sex and said his wife was looking for a black partner.
He also emailed photos to a client named Alexander Chapman, who is black, and asked him to have sex with Douglas.
Chapman complained to the law firm and King settled the matter within weeks by paying Chapman $25,000 to return all the photos and to never discuss the matter. Chapman broke that deal in 2010 and complained to the judicial council, insisting Douglas was part of the sexual harassment.
Both Douglas and King have maintained that Douglas did not know that King had posted the photos to the Internet and that King had offered her up for sex with Chapman.
Block was clearly unhappy with the ruling that the inquiry would continue, and hinted she may appeal it.
Her complaint of bias was based on questions Wednesday from George Macintosh, the lawyer who asks questions on behalf of the inquiry committee members. He went after King, who testified Douglas never knew what King had done with the naked photos, some of which showed her in bondage gear or performing sex acts.
She said the questions to King were put in “a manner at times savage. It was demeaning. It was sarcastic.”
In his questioning, Macintosh seemed incredulous at King’s suggestion that Douglas never looked at or asked about the nude photos, some of which were taken with a Polaroid instant camera that produces pictures immediately.
“So (the picture) is there, the camera’s there, you’re there, your wife is there. You didn’t hide it, did you?” Macintosh asked.
Macintosh and King also butted heads when Macintosh pointed to evidence from one of King’s former law partners, who said that King had told him Douglas knew about some of the Internet photos.
“That is completely inconsistent with the proposal that your wife knew absolutely nothing,” Macintosh said.
Guy Pratte, the independent lawyer leading the inquiry and who represents the public interest, agreed with Block that Macintosh’s questioning had gone too far.
“The appearance is incontestable that it was a strong and co-ordinated attack on the witness,” Pratte said.
“If inquisition is to be done, it has to be done by independent counsel. You cannot descend into the arena.”
Pratte stopped short of calling for a halt to proceedings, but said at the very least, the tone of questions from Macintosh must change.
On Friday, however, Fraser rejected the assertion that Macintosh went too far.
“There were a number of matters that required followup with Mr. King,” the inquiry chairwoman said.
The committee members include Derek Green, the chief justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, Jacqueline Matheson, chief justice of Prince Edward Island and Fraser, chief justice of Alberta, who is the committee chairwoman.
The hearing continued Friday with testimony from Justice Martin Freedman of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, who was involved in Douglas’s application to be a judge.
Freedman told the inquiry he sat on a screening committee for judicial applicants and considered Douglas an excellent candidate when he reviewed her file in 2005. He said he had heard in 2003 that Douglas’s husband had solicited Chapman to have sex with her, and that nude photos of her had been on the Internet.
He said he discussed the matter with Marc Monnin, chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench. But Freedman said he did not know how sexual the photos were, and had been told by Monnin and others that the photos no longer existed.
“(Monnin’s) understanding was that Ms. Douglas was an innocent victim of her husband … and that the photographs had either been destroyed or removed,” Freedman told the inquiry.
Freedman told the inquiry he and other members of the screening committee recommended Douglas be appointed a judge.
“There was no dissent, from any of (Douglas’s references) that she was an excellent lawyer.”
The hearing is a rarity. The Canadian Judicial Council has only held them nine times across the country in 40 years. It has only once recommended that a judge be removed.
In 2009, the council recommended to the federal government that Paul Cosgrove be removed as a justice of the Ontario Superior Court due to incompetence and abuse of his powers. Cosgrove resigned before the federal government could make its decision.