WINNIPEG — In the ought-to-be immortal words borrowed from Ethan and Joel Coen and their screenplay for the film Raising Arizona, "There ain’t no pancake so thin it ain’t got two sides."
Curiously, on a day that could have been Alex Chapman’s worst, this was the lesson out of the strangest and most compelling proceeding going on in the country, the judicial inquiry into the conduct of Manitoba Associate Chief Justice Lori Douglas.
The judge is accused of having participated in the sexual harassment of Chapman, a computer specialist, by her husband Jack King, a lawyer who had represented Chapman in 2003 in an acrimonious divorce and who has admitted to peppering him with intimate pictures of his wife.
King’s fantasy went unfulfilled — there is no allegation any sexual contact ever took place — but he has acknowledged the sexual harassment in a discipline hearing at the Law Society.
A committee of the Canadian Judicial Council is now probing four allegations against the judge, all rooted in her purported knowledge that King was posting intimate sex pictures of her on a hardcore sex website, advertising her, as it were, and badgering Chapman.
The judge, who was just a lawyer back then, and King adamantly deny that she even had a clue what King was doing, while Chapman is sure she knew, though he has acknowledged to his own lawyer, Rocco Galati, that he has not a scintilla of evidence that she was playing along, only his own belief that she was.
On Thursday, the committee heard from Douglas’s lawyer, Sheila Block, another barn-burner of an allegation against Chapman — this time that the hard drive of his laptop at the time was loaded with other "sexual material," including intimate pictures of his sexual partners and evidence that he had, in Block’s words, "signed up to be an online sex performer for money."
The day before, Block suggested, using entries in Chapman’s own diary as evidence, that in the same time period, he’d agreed to service an elderly neighbour’s wife for $500 a week.
His denials to that one were vague, consisting mostly of "That’s not right."
Now, Chapman didn’t have a chance to hear these latest allegations — he was asked to leave the room as Block was giving the inquiry her roadmap — let alone answer them.
The panel retired to consider whether Block would be able to tender the evidence from Chapman’s laptop.
After an hour, its chair, Alberta Chief Justice Catherine Fraser, announced the ruling — the sensational evidence wasn’t relevant, in that this case is about alleged non-consensual sexual overtures made to Chapman, while the pictures show, by Block’s admission, consensual activity.
Chapman then was called back into the room, the only person in it who wasn’t aware of what was now in the air.
Still and all, through Galati’s intelligent questioning of Chapman, there came a few hints of the forces that may have formed this 46-year-old man, and they tempered the picture that heretofore had been painted.
He was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, his family there, as he told Galati once, "since slavery, I guess." He had what sounds like an acrimonious relationship with his mother (the two sued one another in a case only settled last month). Then he had a volatile marriage — the parties called the Winnipeg Police on one another, with Chapman arrested several times, the charges always withdrawn — and he then sued the police twice for false arrest. It appears he had undisclosed immigration issues, as well.
As a result, Chapman accrued considerable experience with lawyers and the justice system; at various times, he has had an immigration lawyer, a criminal lawyer and matrimonial lawyers, including, of course, King.
There was even a lawyer from Toronto who flew in for a day after receiving a $25,000 retainer — and then told Chapman he had no case against Douglas and flew home.
Frankly, it appears that King was not alone in serving Chapman poorly. One of Chapman’s lawyers, Ian Histed, who will testify Friday, seems to have fed the growing chip on his client’s shoulder.
It should be noted at this point that in 2003, when Chapman decided to put an end to King’s harassment, Histed wrote to King’s firm, in what was essentially a demand note, suggesting that the firm should pay $100,000 and Chapman would go away; otherwise, unpleasant consequences would ensue.
King eventually paid Chapman $25,000 for his silence.
But by 2010, after nine years in the works, one of Chapman’s lawsuits against the police had finally made its way to the eve of trial. Histed was also representing him in this action. The judge who’d been handling the matter suddenly died, and a new judge was appointed.
That judge suggested Chapman should settle, and Histed agreed to do so, for $10,000.
Chapman was outraged — this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, he testified, that after nine years, allegedly without his knowledge, the case was settled for so little. It was in the wake of this that he decided to go to the CJC and the CBC with his renewed complaint against King and this time, for the first time, he threw Douglas’s name into the mix.
According to Chapman, Histed told him the settlement had come because the new judge was a friend of Douglas: In other words, the fix had been in.
Thursday, Galati introduced a May 27, 2011, email from Histed to Chapman.
In it, Histed explained that King’s lawyer had complained about him to the Law Society "for telling you that Douglas and (the other judge who urged the settlement with the police) were obviously known to each other, if not friends." Histed suggested Chapman might not want to waive solicitor-client privilege.
Now, Chapman is a difficult man, no question.
Almost every day he was on the stand, he testified to plots against him, powerful people who wanted to hurt him, others who wronged him. He did it again Thursday, this time accusing Block of having pulled a "trick" on him. As he left the stand and walked by the table where she sat, he snapped, "You guys have stuff illegally. I’ll deal with you at the next one" (presumably meaning a future court action).
He is paranoid, suspicious, combative.
And where the ordinary man sees a tree, Chapman sees shadowy figures behind it and a waiting noose in the leaves. None of these takes a brain surgeon to spot, and it’s a wonder the CJC built an inquiry around him.
But still and all, thin as the pancake is, there is, if not another side, at least another story here.
Christie Blatchford is a Postmedia News columnist.