U of W law prof calls 30-day suspension for judge that wore Trump hat 'just'

"All judges need to be held to a high standard. The system doesn't work without that."

Posted: September 12, 2017
Last Updated: September 12, 2017

University of Windsor Associate Professor of Law Jasminka Kalajdzik filed one of 81 complaints to the Ontario Judicial Council. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

An Associate Professor of Law at the University of Windsor says the suspended Hamilton judge who wore a 'Make America Great Again' hat in a court room showed an "extreme lack of judgment."

"Nobody thought it was funny," said Jasminka Kalajdzic. "Even people who weren't typical court watchers were quite astonished that a judge would think that that would be an appropriate thing to do."

Kalajdzic's complaint to the Ontario Judicial Council was one of 81 it received after Judge Bernd Zabel wore the hat into the court room. Zabel, who has not heard a case since December, has been suspended without pay for 30 days.

"Given that the only options were a 30-day suspension or removal from the bench it was likely a just outcome," she told CBC News Tuesday. 

Kalajdzik said it was important for the judicial system to act to ensure that the court system remains a neutral setting. 

"Our judges are bound by an obligation to keep politics out of the courtroom," said Kalajdzik. "Obviously wearing any kind of political hat into the courtroom violates that norm."

"But I think especially distressing to a lot of legal commentators as well as the average citizen was that this judge wore a hat that was a symbol of ideas and beliefs that are profoundly inimical to those notions of unbiased, neutral decision making."


Zabel said during his disciplinary hearing last month that he did not support the American president, but was simply trying to make people laugh when he wore the baseball cap with the phrase Trump used during his campaign.

The decision states that many of the complaints echo Kalajdzik's concerns about the divisive nature of Trump's politics and the message wearing a hat popular with his supporters could send to people in the court system. 

"Most complainants indicate a heightened concern as they perceive many of the things Trump said during his campaign to indicate misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and anti-Muslim attitudes," the decision reads. 

"The complainants state that Justice Zabel has associated himself with those views by his conduct and that women and members of various vulnerable groups would reasonably fear that they would not be treated fairly and impartially by Justice Zabel."


Kalajdzik said that the decision came down in a timely matter and shows the importance of impartiality when it comes to the Canadian court system. 

"Judges aren't perfect," said Kalajdzik. "There may be judges who harbour certain views that we may find distressing but who don't wear a symbol that sort of screams out that basis."

"All judges need to be held to a high standard. The system doesn't work without that," she added.