The stage is set for a formal inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment against a Manitoba judge whose husband once handed out explicit photos of her to a client.
On Saturday, a five-person Canadian Judicial Council panel gave the green light to launch the inquiry against Justice Lori Douglas in a Winnipeg courtroom this summer.
The judge’s lawyers sought to have the inquiry moved away from Winnipeg, expressing concern about media coverage and the affect it would have on her son. The panel said the media spotlight is likely to continue regardless of where the hearings are held.
"Because this case handles the conduct of a judge from Manitoba, this province is where the greatest public interest exists," said Alberta Chief Justice Catherine Fraser, who chairs the inquiry panel.
"(Concern over media attention) is not enough to justify relocating the hearing from where it properly belongs."
The inquiry is the latest in the fallout from the 2010 public revelation that Douglas’s husband, Winnipeg lawyer Jack King, had exhorted former client Alex Chapman to enter into a sexual relationship with his wife. The pressure included nude photos of Douglas and links to pornographic websites featuring interracial couplings.
Although Chapman and King reached a $25,000 confidentiality settlement in 2003, Chapman broke his silence in 2010 and filed a $67-million lawsuit against the couple and the law firm where they worked at the time of the alleged harassment.
The lawsuit was later dropped, while King pleaded guilty to a Law Society of Manitoba charge of professional misconduct. He was given a reprimand and ordered to pay $13,650 in Society legal fees.
Douglas has been on leave from the bench since August 2010. Last November, after reviewing the evidence against Douglas, the Canadian Judicial Council ordered a full inquiry into her conduct.
It is only the eighth time in the council’s 40-year history that an inquiry has been struck. The panel has the ability to recommend Douglas be removed from the bench. She was appointed to the bench in 2005, at which time she reportedly disclosed the situation with Chapman.
The majority of Saturday’s preliminary hearing was primarily to iron out procedural details, including narrowing down dates for what is expected to be about 10 hearings, six of which will be used to present evidence. Though no firm dates were set, the panel and lawyers for the public and for Douglas hope to have the inquiry wrapped up by the end of July.
The relative procedural calm was briefly broken in the morning when Chapman approached the microphone to make a plea to have the Canadian Judicial Council fund a lawyer to represent him at the inquiry.
Chapman trembled with emotion as he described the fallout from going public with his accusations against King and Douglas. "My whole world has been turned upside down," he said, noting he has been unable to work a regular job since he was fired from his position at Great West Life in 2010.
"He has been diagnosed with a chronic stress disorder, he said, and cannot absorb another round of legal fees if he is able to get standing for the hearing. "I told the truth all the way. I never changed my story. I don’t have much left, but the road has been long… Jack King took everything from me. All I wanted was a divorce."
It’s not yet known if Chapman will be given individual standing to be heard at the inquiry. Douglas’s lawyer, Sheila Block, argued Chapman would, "at best," be considered a witness, which would not entitle him to his own counsel.
The panel concluded it would wait to make a decision until it had publicly released the formal allegations against Douglas. In the meantime, it approved funding for a lawyer to help Chapman draw up a legal submission to seek standing in the hearings.
The rest of the preliminary hearing was peppered with several submissions by members of the public who wished to intervene in the proceedings, including a woman who was concerned about whether Douglas was fit to preside over a past family case, and another woman who expressed concerns about the ethics of
Neither of those requests was deemed appropriate for the specific inquiry into Douglas’s actions, as Fraser noted the inquiry was not an "open mic" for broader concerns.