Article undermined public confidence in the administration of justice, court said
The Ontario Divisional Court has upheld the decision of a hearing panel to remove a justice of the peace from office for committing judicial misconduct in relation to an opinion article published on a news website.
In Lauzon v. Justices of the Peace Review Council, 2021 ONSC 6174, the applicant, Justice of the Peace Julie Lauzon, published an article on the National Post’s website entitled When Bail Courts Don’t Follow the Law. The article provided a critique of the bail system with critical comment on the conduct of Ottawa Crown attorneys in the bail process.
Consequently, representatives from the Ontario Crown Attorney’s Association, Ministry of the Attorney General for Ontario and Public Prosecution Service of Canada commenced three complaints with the respondent, Justices of the Peace Review Council, against the applicant. The respondent found that the applicant had committed judicial misconduct and recommended that the applicant be removed from office.
In her application for judicial review, the applicant contended that the complaints constituted an inappropriate attack on her judicial independence. She also contended that the respondent’s finding of judicial misconduct and recommendation to remove her from office were unreasonable.
In its ruling, the Divisional Court held that the complaints were not a campaign to subvert the applicant’s judicial independence.
A complaint about judicial conduct does not necessarily constitute an attack on judicial independence and these complaints were about public confidence in the applicant as an impartial judicial officer, the court said.
The court also ruled that the finding of judicial misconduct was reasonable as there was ample evidence that the article undermined public confidence in the administration of justice.
The court determined that by the applicant’s own testimony, the article was intended to stir up negative public opinion about the operation of the bail system. The finding was therefore transparent, intelligible and supported by findings of fact grounded in cogent evidence, the court said.
Given the seriousness of the misconduct, the court agreed with the respondent that removing the applicant from office would restore public confidence in the judiciary and the administration of justice.
Key to the respondent’s decision, the court noted, was the fact that the applicant failed to acknowledge that she had done something ethically wrong and the gravity of her misconduct. The respondent observed that the applicant continued to express animus towards Ottawa Crown attorneys, giving rise to an ongoing apprehension of bias, the court stressed.
The main issue was not the applicant’s decision to criticize the bail system, but rather the manner by which she did so, including the language that she used, the personal attacks that she levied against Crown counsel appearing before her and her statements conveying disdain for the justice system in which she is an integral participant, the court said.