Newmarket judge reprimanded for case dumping

An Ontario judge who tossed out several criminal cases after a prosecutor was minutes late has been reprimanded.

Judge Howard Chisvin blames stress for freeing defendants over delayed lawyer

Ontario judge Howard Chisvin, who tossed out several criminal cases after a prosecutor was minutes late, has been reprimanded Monday. (iStock)

An Ontario judge who tossed out several criminal cases after a prosecutor was minutes late has been reprimanded.

The Ontario Judicial Council found that Ontario Court Justice Howard Chisvin's actions had a "detrimental effect on public confidence in the administration of justice."

However, the disciplinary panel said it was an "aberration" by a hardworking and dedicated judge in an otherwise exemplary career.

The panel could have imposed a range of penalties on Chisvin, from a warning right up to recommending he be removed from office, but it said a reprimand was most appropriate.

Chisvin blames personal stress for his actions in dismissing charges against 10 people who were either waiting to plead guilty or be sentenced in his Newmarket courtroom in July 2011 after the prosecutor was minutes late coming back from a break.

Chisvin didn't specify what those issues were, but told the hearing he very much regrets that day and wants to "rededicate" himself to serving the public and the administration of justice.

Chisvin's lawyer said after realizing his mistake on the same day the judge took a two-week stress leave.

The panel heard Monday that the Ministry of the Attorney General had to use significant resources to bring all those people back before the court and resolve their cases properly.

Marie Henein, acting as counsel for the judicial council, recommended some combination of the above possible penalties short of having him fired.

Chisvin's lawyer, Brian Greenspan, suggested a warning and a reprimand would be sufficient as Chisvin has already shown remorse and has taken steps to address his issues.

Disciplinary hearings for judges are quite rare, and it's even rarer for judicial councils to recommend a judge lose his or her job.

Ontario's Court of Appeal earlier this year declared Chisvin's actions to be "illegal" and "an abuse of judicial authority."

The Appeal Court addressed Chisvin's dismissals in the case of Mauro Siciliano, who was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to uttering a threat, possession of stolen property and breach of probation.

When the judge returned to court after a 20-minute break -- and the Crown was not there -- he sent word to the prosecutor that if he was not there in a minute, all remaining cases would be dismissed.

Efforts were made to contact the prosecutor but two minutes later, the trial judge dismissed all the day's remaining matters for want of prosecution, including Siciliano's.

Crown attorney Brian McCallion returned about eight minutes later. He apologized to the judge, saying he'd been in his office reading a pre-sentence report he had just received.

"That might be. Court comes when court is back," Chisvin replied.

"You were paged. You were paged in the hallway, the Crown's office was called, no Crown. They're dismissed for want of prosecution."

The Crown appealed and the court sided with the prosecutors, substituting convictions for acquittals based on Siciliano's guilty pleas and calling the judge's actions "high-handed."

"It is clear that the trial judge had no power to make the order that he purported to make," the court said.

"It was illegal and an abuse of judicial authority. Furthermore, even if the power existed, there was no basis upon which to make the order on the facts of this case. The trial judge's actions were high-handed and did a real disservice to the proper administration of justice."

Chisvin was appointed to the provincial court bench in 2004 by then-attorney general Michael Bryant.