Secret letters in nude judge case shed light on lawyer's quitting
Canadian Judicial Council was in conflict with lawyer who questioned treatment of Lori Douglas
Previously secret correspondence released Friday has shed light on the sudden resignation of a key player in the disciplinary hearing against a senior Manitoba judge whose husband posted naked photographs of her on the Internet.
Pratte had wanted the courts to decide whether the committee was treating Douglas shabbily with its aggressive cross-examination through its own lawyer of two witnesses favourable to Douglas.
The CJC, which maintains it is above judicial scrutiny, urged Pratte to withdraw his court application, arguing it would be "unseemly" for them to be seen to be at odds with each other.
"A grave difference of opinion exists between you and the Canadian Judicial Council," Norman Sabourin, the CJC's executive director, wrote Pratte on Aug. 24, 2012.
"The maintenance of the relationship between independent council and the Canadian Judicial Council cannot exist in these circumstances."
Resignation prompts collapse of hearing
Pratte refused to withdraw his court application.
"I have no option but to resign as independent council effective immediately," Pratte responded days later.
The hearing into Douglas's conduct collapsed after Pratte and, later, the inquiry panel resigned.
The letters, which the CJC said it was releasing in the "public interest," appear to lend credence to bias assertions Douglas levelled at the CJC.
"If the committee is correct that it can cross-examine witnesses aggressively through its own counsel and...that independent counsel is powerless to clarify in a court of law the proper allocation of roles...then the notion of 'independent counsel' is for all practical purposes a hollow one," Pratte wrote in one letter.
Under the Judge's Act, the role of independent counsel is to help ensure the relevant evidence is presented and tested fairly to the inquiry committee.
Judicial Council fought to keep letters confidential
The CJC had previously fought to keep the Pratte correspondence under wraps, arguing it was in a solicitor-client relationship with him.
Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley rejected that notion last month, along with the assertion that the judicial council — comprising the country's top judges — is beyond the reach of the courts.
The 3 1/2-year-old case against Douglas has raised questions about how the judicial council performs its role of holding Canada's judges to account.
Several experts have been highly critical of how it has dealt with Douglas, including one who called its conduct a "stain on the whole system."
The CJC filed notice with the Federal Court of Appeal this week against Mosley's ruling that the courts do have jurisdiction to oversee its processes.
In the interim, a new three-member panel appointed to replace the five-judge committee that resigned in November is waiting in the wings. Douglas remains suspended with pay while the courts attempt to sort out the mess.
The judicial council could recommend she be removed from the bench, although only Parliament can execute any such action.