New Brunswick

Justice Paulette Garnett chastised for 'very late' decisions

A New Brunswick judge who routinely kept parties waiting months, sometimes years, for decisions has been mildly chastised by the Canadian Judicial Council for her conduct, 15 years after the lengthy delays first surfaced.

Canadian Judicial Council says Justice Paulette Garnett will not face discliplinary action

A New Brunswick judge, who routinely kept parties waiting months, sometimes years, for decisions, has been mildly chastised by the Canadian Judicial Council for her conduct, 15 years after the lengthy delays first surfaced.

Justice Paulette Garnett will face no disciplinary action for bogging down the judicial system with delayed decisions. (CBC)
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Paulette Garnett was the subject of a complaint by an unknown person to the judicial council last spring, a year after CBC News reported on several of her overdue decisions.

But she will face no disciplinary action for bogging down the judicial system, according to a decision released on Tuesday.

"The judge had been very late in issuing reasons in a number of cases," the council said in a press release.

"Undue delays in rendering decisions can lessen public confidence in our justice system. ... The judge has acknowledged that she needs to do better in future, She is working to ensure that this situation does not happen again."

Garnett was appointed in 1998 and almost immediately began violating judicial council guidelines, which call for delivering judgments within six months of the conclusion of a hearing. 

One of her first cases, a claim for back rent at the Bathurst Supermall made in August of 1998 wasn't decided on for nearly 13 months. 

That became a familiar pattern to lawyers and parties in her courtroom for years to come.  

In 2005, she presided over a one-day hearing between Fredericton's old Elm City Chrysler dealership, its owners and their bank to resolve questionable transactions. She delivered a decision two years and two months later.

In 2012, she took so long to decide whether employees of Fredericton's Jones Masonry had properly unionized, Gordon Petrie, the company's lawyer, eventually died.

Garnett's decision approving the union was eventually made a month after Petrie's funeral and 15 months after the original hearing, by which time the workers who had voted for the union had all left the company.

David Smith, Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench, put Justice Paulette Garnett on restricted courtroom duty in 2013. (Court of Queen's Bench)
New Brunswick Chief Justice David Smith finally intervened early in 2013, restricting cases going to Garnett until she brought outstanding decisions up to date.  

One of those cases involved an attempt by former University of New Brunswick women's hockey players to challenge the cancellation of their varsity team in 2008.

It landed in Garnett`s courtroom in the summer of 2011 and she took nearly two years to decide part of the case could continue. 

The decision took so long it became an issue at the next hearing when the university unsuccessfully tried to use it to argue former players were now too old to get a team back.

But even after the chief justice's interventions and publicity surrounding delays in her courtroom, Garnett continued to deliver slow rulings.

In August 2013, the dispute over who should win an NB Liquor agency store in Hanwell landed in front of her, a case she took more than seven months to rule on. That case apparently triggered the complaint which the judicial council finally acted on.

Garnett will work 'very diligently' to get decisions done

Robert Pidgeon, the senior associate chief justice of the Superior Court of Quebec, dealt with the complaint about Garnett's tardiness and a second complaint by Fredericton resident Andre Murray about Garnett's "attitude and demeanour" during his time in her court.

Norman Sabourin, the judicial council`s executive director, said Garnett had satisfied Pidgeon that she has improved and noted she had apologized to Murray for being "abrupt" with Murray.

We shouldn't have to wait for a citizen to make a complaint before inquiring into the conduct of a judge.- Norman Sabourin, Canadian Judicial Council 

"There was an undertaking by the judge to get some coaching and to work very diligently to get her decisions done," said Sabourin.

"The judge acknowledged that her conduct had been at issue. She made an undertaking it would not happen again. Chief Justice Pidgeon decided it was not a case that needed to go further."

Natalie LeBlanc, the registrar of New Brunswick's Court of Queen's Bench, said neither Garnett nor Smith would speak about the council's decision.

"I am advised that no further comment will be offered," LeBlanc told CBC News in an email.

Garnett`s extreme tardiness has been a sore spot in New Brunswick legal circles for 15 years and Sabourin says the case shows the need for the judicial council to respond to problem judges more quickly than it has in the past.

"We shouldn't have to wait for a citizen to make a complaint before inquiring into the conduct of a judge," said Sabourin.

"We think there should be the ability of a council member or the executive director to say, 'There's a concern here, there seems to be something happening and we`re going to initiate a review of that judge's conduct."

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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