A veteran provincial court judge has received a stern rebuke from Manitoba's highest court after he ordered that an accused observe a curfew, knowing he had no legal authority to do so.
"Because of his conduct, (Judge Brian Corrin) caused an appeal to be brought when none should have been required and caused judicial resources to be expended to correct an error that (he) knew full well he was committing," Appeal Court Justices Michel Monnin, Diana Cameron and Jennifer Pfuetzner wrote in a decision released Wednesday.
Nicholas Donald Woroniuk, 23, was convicted last year of weapon offences and failing to comply with a recognizance and was sentenced to time served plus two years supervised probation. As a condition of his probation, Corrin ordered that Woroniuk observe a nightly curfew.
The condition "should never have been imposed as it was imposed following a flagrant error in law committed by... the sentencing judge," the justices wrote.
During Woroniuk's sentencing hearing, Corrin adjourned proceedings to place a phone call outside of court to a probation officer who prepared a pre-sentence report for court. Corrin was unable to speak to the probation officer, but spoke to her supervisor, which led to Corrin imposing the curfew.
"I didn't adhere just to what was in the report that was before the court," Corrin said when he returned to court. "I spoke to somebody, the author of the report off the record on the telephone, then came back and reported myself on what was said, which isn't of course part of our court record... I reported hearsay and did something that was illegal in so doing as a judge that was beyond my capacity as a judge and which had no legal basis."
Corrin's comments make it clear he knew what he did was wrong, the justices wrote.
"The sentencing judge's action was a blatant disregard of a basic principle of justice," they wrote. "Judges are not to speak to or seek independent information from witnesses unless it is done in open court. The sentencing judge might have been well intentioned, but his actions cannot be countenanced and must be denounced."
Corrin, who was appointed to the bench in 1988, is no stranger to legal controversy. In February 2011 he was placed on administrative leave while police investigated an allegation he had assaulted and threatened his mother. The charges were dropped the following November and Corrin returned to the bench.
"The sentencing judge's action was a blatant disregard of a basic principle of justice." - Written decision from Appeal Court Justices Michel Monnin, Diana Cameron and Jennifer Pfuetzner
In 1996, Corrin was convicted of seven counts of professional misconduct and was suspended without pay for 30 days. He was also ordered by a judicial panel to write an essay on what it means to be a good judge.
Corrin was found by the panel to have acted with "arrogance and an over-inflated sense of his role" stemming from an incident in which he failed to return to court for a drunk-driving trial while his car was being repaired. The charges included offering to personally pay the fees of an expert Crown witness to cover the delay, making disparaging comments to three Crown attorneys and disregarding the rights of an accused.
In 2007, the Manitoba Court of Appeal twice rebuked Corrin for his actions during criminal cases. In the first example, the high court ruled Corrin used "inappropriate stereotypes" to consider the case of a young suburban teen who pleaded guilty to a drug-fuelled robbery spree. In the second case, the same court found Corrin had "embellished" evidence presented to him by lawyers and handed down an illegal sentence in a case involving a Winnipeg university student who damaged 13 red-light cameras during a year-long vandalism spree.
— With Free Press files