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Counsel in Douglas inquiry resigned due to potential bias in process

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The independent counsel involved in the case of a Manitoba judge photographed in the nude resigned because he felt the disciplinary process was tainted by bias.

"In my respectful view, by confounding the role of committee counsel and independent counsel, the committee is not only acting beyond its jurisdiction, but risks tainting the entire process with an appearance of bias," wrote Guy Pratte, the Ottawa lawyer meant to operate at arm's-length during Douglas’ disciplinary inquiry. "Should that happen, nothing can be done retroactively to cure the damage done."

Pratte’s letter, one of several kept secret until now, was released Friday by the Canadian Judicial Council as part of an ongoing federal court case that was meant to delve into the fairness of the CJC’s process. But, before a federal court judge could rule on that question, the CJC’s disciplinary committee resigned, rendering much of the matter moot.

Now, the CJC is appealing that ruling, prompting more delays and confusion in a case that has dragged on for nearly four years.

Douglas went on leave as the associate chief of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench after it was revealed her husband, lawyer Jack King, posted naked photos of her online without her knowledge. The CJC committee was tasked with determining whether Douglas can continue serving on the bench following related allegations of sexual harassment lodged against her by Alex Chapman.

At issue now is the role of the independent counsel, and whether the CJC’s own lawyer tarnished that role by aggressively questioning King during the displinary hearing. As independent counsel, Pratte’s role was to marshal the evidence and cross-examine all witnesses, acting as the public’s lawyer. Pratte and Douglas have both argued that the CJC’s own lawyer, stepped on that role and overstepped his own with his aggressive questioning, sparking the accusations the CJC was biased.

Pratte resigned as independent counsel in August and appealed to the federal court, with the disciplinary hearing incomplete.

"I take this step with great reluctance, for it has been a great and singular honour for me to serve in the capacity of independent counsel," wrote Pratte. "To be asked to serve the public interest, independently and solely, is a challenging task in and of itself – the more so in the unusual circumstances of this case."

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