As allegations of bias continue to mar Queen's Bench Justice Lori Douglas' stalled disciplinary process, hearings could resume this summer despite a federal appeal.
Norman Sabourin, executive director of the Canadian Judicial Council, said the new disciplinary committee -- formed after the old one resigned amid bias allegations -- has begun scheduling meetings and exploring possible dates for new hearings into whether Douglas is fit to serve on the bench.
'The committee is not only acting beyond its jurisdiction, but risks tainting the entire process' -- Lawyer Guy Pratte
Whether the new disciplinary committee will need to hear a mountain of evidence anew, and whether Douglas will object to another round of hearings, remain to be seen.
"We think there is no reason why the inquiry committee can't move forward," said Sabourin.
That's despite a judicial review that's now headed for the Federal Court of Appeal but will likely take months more to resolve.
And it's despite the release Friday of a series of damning letters penned by the CJC's independent counsel, Guy Pratte, who resigned mid-hearing over concerns the CJC's disciplinary panel was acting improperly and tainting the process with bias.
Those letters were pivotal in the judicial review and kept secret until the CJC released them Friday, saying their publication was in the interest of transparency. Pratte is the first independent counsel to resign from a CJC disciplinary hearing, and his letters bolster Douglas' claim the disciplinary committee acted unfairly.
Pratte's letters lay out the issue that emerged from the most gripping and tense days of the hearings in Winnipeg in the summer of 2012, when Douglas' husband, Jack King, was questioned relentlessly about his marital sex life and the details of the naked photos. It was not Pratte who posed those questions, but the committee's own lawyer, which prompted Pratte to question whether that questioning infringed on his role as independent counsel and marked the committee as biased.
"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 Pratte to the CJC shortly after the hearings had collapsed. "Should that happen, nothing can be done retroactively to cure the damage done."
Shortly after, Pratte resigned.
"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."
Asked whether the Douglas affair can be salvaged, given the passage of time and complicated legal wranglings that have stymied it, Sabourin said the CJC still has an important question to answer -- whether or not Douglas is fit to remain on the bench. It's in the interest of justice all the evidence be seen and the new disciplinary committee be given a chance to do its work, he said.
"We've put a lot of care into creating a process that was eminently fair to the judge," said Sabourin.