Sudbury

Sudbury judge faces discipline over child welfare case: 'He's tearing my little girl apart'

A Sudbury judge facing a disciplinary hearing has failed in his bid to get text messages where he allegedly tries to interfere in a child protection matter thrown out.

Justice John Keast is accused of getting confidential information in texts from a children's aid manager

Sudbury judge John Keast is accused of trying to access confidential information on a child protection matter by texting a friend who worked at the children's aid. (CBC)

A Sudbury judge facing a disciplinary hearing has failed in his bid to get text messages thrown out where he allegedly tries to interfere in a child protection matter.

Justice John Keast exchanged text messages with Lynda Cullain, a long-time friend who worked as a manager at the Children's Aid Society of the Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin.

He is alleged to have gained access to confidential information regarding a woman—who died before she could testify at the hearing— and her daughter.

The CBC is forbidden from naming them or publishing information that may identify them.

The four-person panel of the Ontario Judicial Council ruled Tuesday that the text messages are admissible and the hearing will continue Wednesday morning. 

Case hinged on text messages

Keast's lawyer Paul Stern wanted the text messages tossed out and the hearing halted.

He argued that "the entire case" against his client is based on "stolen" text messages taken off his cellphone.

The woman who is the subject of the texts obtained them and provided them to the Sudbury children's aid society, which then turned them over to the judicial council, prompting this week's hearing.

"And the judge is told 'Well, you're a judge. That's how it is,'" Stern told the judicial panel Tuesday.

"Informed members of the public would understand that judges too have certain privacy protections."

Stern also said that while the woman handed over the text messages to the children's aid, she was "vulnerable" to them because of the "powerful control they had over her child" who she did not have custody of at the time.

He suggested the agency was focused on obtaining the messages said to contain damaging information about the CAS and its employees. 

Scott Hutchison, the presenting counsel whose role is to prosecute the allegations against Keast's lawyers in this proceeding, said the judge's right to privacy ended when he "lost control" of the texts and they were provided to the children's aid.

Hutchison told the hearing that Stern "has done his best to turn it into something it is not. That record is not about an organization taking unfair advantage of an individual, but an organization dealing with a very serious breach of the law."

"It is unfair to criticise the CAS for how they dealt with it...what else were they to do?"

'He lied to me over and over again straight to my face'

Hutchison read transcripts from the recorded conversations between the woman and children's aid officials, arguing that she is a "whistleblower" and not vindictively trying to get revenge on the people discussing her private affairs in the text messages.

"I have all the proof I need to have her fired and put in jail probably," she said of Cullain.

"He's tearing my little girl apart," she says of Justice Keast.

"He lied to me over and over again straight to my face and that is what kind of threw everything over the edge."

Hutchison also stressed that while in the texts Keast comes off as a member of the public concerned about the welfare of a child "he remains a judge as well" and the CAS took his position into account when deciding what to do with the messages.

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