December 10, 2019

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Judge's long ordeal finally over

Plans to retire, ending hearing into conduct

Sheila Block, lawyer for embattled Manitoba Justice Lori Douglas, an associate chief justice of Manitoba, enters a preliminary hearing room in Winnipeg, Monday. Douglas has avoided a disciplinary hearing over nude photos by agreeing to retire.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Sheila Block, lawyer for embattled Manitoba Justice Lori Douglas, an associate chief justice of Manitoba, enters a preliminary hearing room in Winnipeg, Monday. Douglas has avoided a disciplinary hearing over nude photos by agreeing to retire.

Saying she cannot bear another probe into her personal life or the thought fellow judges will see her naked photos, embattled Manitoba Justice Lori Douglas has thwarted a disciplinary hearing into her conduct by suddenly retiring.

That leaves unanswered key questions that have lingered for four years, including whether Douglas disclosed the existence of nude photos, taken by her husband, when she applied to be a judge a decade ago and whether the scandal has eroded public confidence in her office so badly she must be removed from the bench.

Lori Douglas

Lori Douglas

Instead, at a short hearing Monday in Winnipeg, the disciplinary panel decided it would be pointless to continue its inquiry, effectively ending one of the most convoluted cases in Canadian judicial history.

"For her part, the trauma of the past four years has taken a grave toll on her, on her family, those who have stood by her," Douglas's lawyer, Sheila Block, told the panel Monday. "On a personal level, she has been devastated by the death of her mother and her husband during this. Even though she loved being a judge and considered it an honour and privilege to serve... to withstand more weeks of hearings into intensely private matters and risk the viewing of her intimate images by colleagues and others is more than she can bear."

The stop-and-start disciplinary process, launched by the Canadian Judicial Council but then bogged down by Federal Court appeals, cost taxpayers at least $3 million, including $600,000 paid last fiscal year to Douglas's lawyers.

"Many "dérapages" have occurred since 2010 in this matter, regretfully," said François Roland, chief justice of Quebec's superior court and the chairman of the disciplinary panel, using the French word for skidding or slipping.

The panel ruled Monday it would be in the public interest to suspend the inquiry, in part because there is no chance related appeals in Federal Court will be done before Douglas steps down from the bench in May.

Douglas, who has continued to receive her $315,000 salary since she was suspended four years ago, will retire with a pension worth roughly $130,000 a year, according to federal legislation. At the end of May, Douglas will be over 55 and mark her 10th year on the bench, the minimum to qualify for early retirement.

In a deal reached late last week, the CJC agreed Douglas's retirement means there is little reason to continue to spend public funds. It also agreed to suspend all related appeals before the Federal Court.

Alex Chapman: filed harassment complaint

Alex Chapman: filed harassment complaint

The complaint against Douglas dates back to 2003 when her late husband, Winnipeg divorce lawyer Jack King, took explicit photos of her and posted them on the Internet without her knowledge or permission. Unbeknownst to Douglas, King then used the photos to try to entice his client, Alex Chapman, into a sexual relationship with Douglas. Chapman refused and instead pursued legal action against King, who negotiated a financial settlement with Chapman.

Years later, during the first disciplinary hearing, King described his behaviour at the time as "bizarre, ridiculous, stupid, self-indulgent, grotesque."

A year after the settlement with Chapman, Douglas was named to the Court of Queen's Bench. The seven-year-old matter hit headlines in 2010 after Chapman took the photos to the media, and then filed a harassment complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council, which triggered the disciplinary hearings.

The titillating case was originally viewed as a matter of judicial misconduct. In recent months, though, with renewed national focus on the sexual rights of women and perils of online victimization, the CJC has been repeatedly criticized for unfairly targeting a female judge whose real crime may have been trusting her husband would keep their private bedroom activities private.

Meanwhile, the CJC, under heavy criticism for its tortuous process, is reviewing the way it disciplines judges. It is looking to streamline its process and may make recommendations next year to the justice minister if legislative changes are needed. One of the issues the CJC is grappling with is whether the judges ought to have wide recourse to appeal to the Federal Court for judicial review at taxpayers' expense.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Jack King: posted explicit photos

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jack King: posted explicit photos

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History

Updated on Tuesday, November 25, 2014 at 6:21 AM CST: Replaces photo

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