New Brunswick

Judge-moving bill aims to help Dominic LeBlanc, Tory MLA charges

A Progressive Conservative MLA has taken the unusual step of naming names — including that of a sitting provincial court judge — in his attack on a proposed law on how Court of Queen's Bench judges are transferred.

Kirk MacDonald says Liberals drafted bill to help put Jolène Richard and André Richard on court

Tory MLA Kirk MacDonald said in the legislature he believes the Liberal government's judge-moving bill is designed to help put Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc's spouse and brother-in-law on the Court of Queen's Bench. (CBC)

A Progressive Conservative MLA has taken the unusual step of naming names — including that of a sitting provincial court judge — in his attack on a proposed law on how Court of Queen's Bench judges are transferred.

Kirk MacDonald told the legislature last week that he believes the government bill was drafted to help the spouse and the brother-in-law of federal Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc, a close ally of Premier Brian Gallant.

A Progressive Conservative MLA believes the Liberal government's judge-moving bill was drafted to help have André Richard and Jolène Richard appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench. (CBC)

"I will give you two names. I will give you Jolène Richard and André Richard, two people I believe are looking for judicial appointments here in New Brunswick," MacDonald said during second-reading debate on the bill.

In fact, Jolène Richard is already a provincial court judge. André Richard is her brother and a senior lawyer at Stewart McKelvey.

"Dominic LeBlanc has some judges that he wants to appoint in New Brunswick, and the framework as it currently exists does not allow for that to happen," MacDonald said.

André Richard stated Thursday he "had no involvement in the government's decision to propose changes to the Judicature Act."

"As you know, my sister is already a judge who sits in Moncton. I fail to understand why our names are being brought into this debate."

Bill gives veto to minister

The Liberal bill would amend the Judicature Act, which governs how courts operate, to give the justice minister a veto over Chief Justice David Smith of the Court of Queen's Bench transferring judges from one court to another.

Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice David Smith has transferred 13 judges since becoming chief justice in 1998. (Acadia University)

PC MLAs have hinted in the past about who they believe the bill was designed to help. But until now, no one was willing to name them.

It's rare for politicians to draw sitting judges into partisan debates, and the veteran Tory MLA did not offer any evidence to back up his allegations. He turned down a request to explain his views in an interview.

Parliamentary privilege

Parliamentary privilege protects members of the legislature from being sued for defamation or held in contempt of court for comments they make during proceedings. No such protection exists for things they say outside the legislature.

Provincial court judges such as Richard are appointed by the province, but Court of Queen's Bench justices are named by Ottawa. Both courts are administered by the province, but the current law gives Smith the power to move judges on his court on his own.

Smith has argued the bill would threaten the independence of the courts, which could make it unconstitutional.

Bill brought back

The Liberals introduced the bill during the last session, but it didn't pass before the session ended. They brought it back last week.

Justice Minister Denis Landry said last week the bill was designed to bring "best practices" to court administration and end the pattern of justices being named to smaller courthouses and then being transferred soon after.

"This is what we want to correct," he said. "If we name a judge, they should reside there, for a long period of time, not just two or three months then move them where they want to go."

Asked whether he'd veto such a transfer, Landry said, "This is what we'll see."

Landry's department said Thursday it would not comment on MacDonald's accusation.

Larger locations favoured

MacDonald said during last week's debate that it's true Court of Queen's Bench justices are often appointed to smaller locations and are then moved to one of the three largest cities.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is a close ally of New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant. (CBC)

He said that court postings in Moncton, Fredericton, and Saint John are "The positions that everyone seems to want."

And he said the current system for moving judges, "which is controlled by the chief justice, does not work for Dominic LeBlanc and the Liberal Party of New Brunswick," MacDonald said.

"They want to change it. They want to have a situation where they have a mechanism to control that decision and to effect change on that decision."

In June, Smith transferred Justice Tracey DeWare from Woodstock to Moncton and Justice Richard Petrie from Saint John to Woodstock.

DeWare was moved to fill a vacancy after Justice Brigitte Robichaud switched to supernumerary, or part-time, status.

Jolène Richard did not respond to interview requests.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.