The disciplinary hearing into the conduct of Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Lori Douglas is on hold, maybe forever.
The hearing, which gripped the province's legal community last summer thanks to its titillating details, may not resume for months or years, if ever, pending the outcome of a judicial review. It's possible the matter will end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.
A Federal Court judge ruled Friday continuing the highly charged disciplinary hearings into Douglas's conduct would compound the irreparable harm to her reputation and career.
'Allegations of bias are easy to make but hard to prove and rarely successful. There is a strong case for bias here'
Friday's ruling, seen as a victory for Douglas, inches the tortuous matter forward, paving the way for a full judicial review of the disciplinary hearing, which is on hold.
Douglas has alleged the hearing by a Canadian Judicial Council panel is biased because the panel allowed improper and adversarial cross-examination of her husband, lawyer Jack King, which revealed private details about their sex life. Douglas is also alleging bias because the CJC's panel refused to allow Douglas's lawyer to cross-examine complainant Alex Chapman about his credibility.
Three years ago, when the scandal first erupted, Chapman filed a complaint with the CJC accusing Douglas of sexual harassment. Chapman alleged King sent him nude photos of Douglas and wanted Chapman to have sex with her. At the time, King was representing Chapman in a divorce case. King has admitted to giving Chapman sexually explicit photographs of his wife that were posted on the Internet, all without his wife's consent, and to paying Chapman $25,000 to settle the complaint.
University of Manitoba law Prof. Karen Busby did not want to prejudge the outcome of the upcoming judicial review but said there is merit in Douglas's claim the CJC's panel is biased.
"Allegations of bias are easy to make but hard to prove and rarely successful," she said. "There is a strong case for bias here."
And, given that it's taken a year to settle the preliminary matters, she said it could be six to nine months at best before the review is held and a decision emerges.
It's possible -- some say even likely -- the judicial review will spawn further appeals, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court.
It's also possible the judicial review will call a permanent halt to the CJC's disciplinary hearing.
Staff at the CJC are more optimistic about a speedy outcome, saying they are hopeful the judicial review will be concluded in time for the disciplinary hearing to resume as planned this fall.
"I am more optimistic than others," said Norman Sabourin, the CJC's executive director and senior general counsel. "To the extent I have anything to do with it, things are going to move quickly."
He said he also believes a judicial review will confirm the disciplinary panel has acted without bias.
"I'm confident that the council has a process that is fair and will withstand scrutiny," said Sabourin.
Also Friday, the Federal Court refused to grant intervenor status in the judicial review to the CJC's disciplinary panel. It also refused to expand the intervenor role granted to the independent counsel in the case.
It's possible those orders could spark appeals, further delaying the judicial review.
Douglas has been on paid leave from the bench since 2010, pending the outcome of the inquiry.