Judge in sex harassment case to face inquiry

A public inquiry will be held into the conduct of a Manitoba judge connected to a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint.
Lori Douglas stepped away from her duties as a sitting judge of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench in September, shortly a complaint about her was filed with the Canadian Judicial Council. ((CBC))

A public inquiry will be held to examine the conduct of a Manitoba judge connected to a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint.

Lori Douglas, an associate chief justice with the Court of Queen's Bench (Family Division), has been under review by a panel of five judges, ordered by the Canadian Judicial Council in January.

The CJC announced Wednesday that following the review, it has been determined the matter may be serious enough to warrant Douglas's removal from office.

The council said an independent lawyer will be selected to present all evidence in a fair manner and additional details about the inquiry will be released in the coming weeks.

This is the first inquiry to be called since changes were made to CJC bylaws and procedures in October 2010. The changes were made to streamline some of the key steps for reviewing complaints against federally appointed judges.

Douglas stepped away from her duties as a sitting judge in September 2010, after Winnipegger Alexander Chapman filed a complaint with the CJC in July.

Alex Chapman filed a complaint of sexual harassment and discrimination against Lori Douglas in July 2010. ((CBC))

He claimed Douglas's husband, Jack King, tried to pressure him to have sex with her in 2002 and 2003.

At the time, both King and Douglas were lawyers, partners at the firm Thompson Dorfman Sweatman in Winnipeg.

Douglas remained a partner at the firm until 2005, when she was appointed to the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench. She was later named associate chief justice.

Chapman also filed a complaint against King, filed with the Law Society of Manitoba in July 2010. In early November, the society announced that it had charged King with violating three provisions of the code of professional conduct: integrity (breach of trust), prohibition against sexual harassment and conflict of interest.

The charges have yet to be proven at a disciplinary hearing, where the complaint will be heard by two lawyers and one member of the public. No date for that hearing has yet been set.

Lawsuits filed

Chapman also filed a $10-million lawsuit against King, along with a $7-million claim against Douglas and a $50-million claim against Thompson Dorfman Sweatman.

Jack King has been charged by the Law Society of Manitoba with three breaches of the code of professional conduct. ((CBC))

He filed all three lawsuits on Sept. 1, 2010, claiming he was harassed and suffered emotional distress when King tried, but failed, to get him to have sex with Douglas.

He later dropped the lawsuits against the law firm and Douglas; and the suit against King was tossed out by the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench.

In his decision to dismiss the suit, Judge John Menzies wrote that Chapman had no right to sue after signing a confidential settlement agreement with King seven years ago, promising not to take legal action against King, his partners or the law firm.

As part of that agreement, Chapman was paid $25,000 by King.

Chapman first met King in 2002, when he retained the lawyer to handle his divorce. King showed him sexually explicit photos of Douglas, naked in various forms of bondage, in chains, with sex toys and performing oral sex.

Many of the photos had also been posted on a porn website devoted to interracial sex, particularly between black men and white women.

That information was admitted to by King, who has also apologized for his behaviour, particularly to his wife, who he said had done nothing other than privately indulge him in his strange tastes.

"My behaviour was disgraceful," he said at a law society hearing. "To my wife, I can never apologize enough."

King also admitted to arranging two meetings for drinks, which he attended along with Chapman and Douglas.

Soon after his divorce proceedings were completed, Chapman filed a complaint to the managing partners at Thompson Dorfman Sweatman. King then left the firm and reached an agreement with Chapman that included a confidentiality clause.

King later became a partner in a new firm he helped found.

After seven years of silence, Chapman decided to go pubic with his complaints and allegations at the end of August 2010, telling CBC News he still felt distraught about the matter.

Complaints and inquiries

When someone believes that a judge's personal conduct (on or off the bench) is in question, a complaint may be made to the CJC. When a complaint is determined to have some merit, the question before the council is ultimately whether or not that conduct prevents that judge from continuing to discharge his or her duties.

The reasons for removal are set out in the Judges Act and address cases where a judge has become incapacitated or disabled from performing their duties by reason of age or infirmity, misconduct, a failure to execute the duties of the position, or being in a position incompatible with the functions of a judge.

Complaints received by the CJC are first reviewed by a member of the judicial conduct committee. The judge in question, as well as the judge's chief justice, may be asked to comment on the allegations. If the complaint cannot be resolved at that stage, the file can be referred to a panel of three or five judges for further review.

After careful consideration, the panel may close the file with an expression of concern if warranted or may recommend that the judge pursue counselling or other remedial measures.

A panel can also conclude that the complaint may be serious enough to warrant a judge's removal from office. In that case, the matter is sent to an inquiry committee to publicly investigate.

An inquiry committee consists of an uneven number of members, the majority of whom are CJC members, along with other individuals, appointed by the minister of justice, who are lawyers with a minimum of 10 years' experience.

An "independent counsel" is appointed to present the facts to the committee, which exercises the same authority and powers as a Superior Court. It is expected that any hearing of the inquiry committee would be conducted in public, unless the inquiry committee determines that the public interest requires that all or part of a hearing be conducted in private.

After completing its investigation, the committee will report its findings to council, which will then report its own recommendations to the minister of justice.

In accordance with the provisions of Canada's constitution, a judge may only be removed from office after a joint address by Parliament.

More Information on the role and mandate of the CJC can be found on the council's website.

SOURCE: Canadian Judicial Council

With files from The Canadian Press