Lawyer takes 15 minutes out of his day to change a man's life, highlight flawed court system
Jordan Bonner stepped in to help overwhelmed man making 7th court appearance for $15 shoplifting charge
When he stepped in to help a defendant in court, attorney Jordan Bonner didn't know a CBC court reporter was watching. His act of kindness has now spread across social media and in the process, highlighted a judicial system that caused an elderly man in a walker to return to court seven times over a $15 shoplifting charge.
CBC reporter Meghan Grant began her tweet thread with this: "Today, I witnessed a beautiful, simple act of kindness by a defence lawyer. It was the gift of about 15 minutes and it affected a man's life."
Attorney Jordan Bonner joined David Gray on the Calgary Eyeopener to talk about what happened.
"I was in the courtroom waiting for a client of mine who ultimately never showed up, when I saw this old fellow with a walker make his way up to the docket with his walker," he said. "He's charged with shoplifting. The judge was speaking to him, asking what he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to plead not guilty.
"Then the judge had to go through all of the hoops that this old fellow was going to have to do to get a trial date, and … I could just see the strain in the old fellow's eyes. He'd been told 'Do this, do that, do the other thing.' It was clear he was overwhelmed."
The man was making his seventh appearance on a shoplifting charge, and he wanted to plead not guilty. That would have resulted in a trial date and more trips to the courthouse.
Bonner says it was clear that the system was not working.
What I saw today can't happen all the time. Defence lawyers need to get paid. And there's a (flawed, underfunded) legal aid process to go through for accused people who can't afford a lawyer.—@CBCMeg
"At that point, we went down for a break in that courtroom, so I approached the Crown prosecutor that was sitting there," Bonner said, "and I said 'What are we talking about here, it says shoplifting.'
They looked it up. The value of the item was $15.73.
"I asked the Crown. I said 'Can you screen the file and see if there's something we can do for him?'," Bonner said, adding he then went out into the halls to find the man. "And so finally when I was able to track him down, by that time the Crown had looked at the file and realized. 'Yeah. $15.73. We can divert him to Alternative Measures. He doesn't need to keep churning here in docket court. He doesn't need to set a trial date right now."
Bonner says he doesn't want to think about how much money was spent on churning elderly man through the court system over a $15.73 shoplifting charge.
"You see someone in distress, you want to help them," he said. "And also there's an efficiency angle, because seven appearances, and he was going to set it for trial."
Bonner said he sees people caught up in the system like this all the time, and that it is frustrating to observe.
"We would have fewer delays on serious matters if we were able to expend resources early on, and dispose of things that shouldn't be churning in the system like this fellow was," he said.
They head into 306 together. It takes 40 seconds. Buddy will be back in 3 months to show he's completed some sort of community service/letter of apology/charitable donation. The man will have no criminal record. NO CRIMINAL RECORD.—@CBCMeg
Bonner says he's glad to see that some creative thinking helped the man out of an endless series of court dates.
"It was a nice way to shine a light on what we do at the courthouse, because it is an adversarial system, but we are trying to work together to get things done," Bonner said.
"And it wasn't just me. It was the Crown who looked at the file and decided that 'yes, $15.73 didn't warrant what was going on.' It was Meghan who helped me track him down in the building after I lost this fellow," he said.
"And it was him, to his credit that... he said 'yes'. He could have been the sort of person that said 'No, I want to plead not guilty, I want my day in court' and he could have stamped his feet, but he was a reasonable person.
"Everything just came together perfectly."
With files from the the Calgary Eyeopener.