Politics

New trial ordered in sex assault case after Ontario judge refuses to explain her verdict

Canada's judicial watchdog is initiating a complaint against Ontario Superior Court Justice Susanne Goodman after the province's court of appeal issued a blistering ruling that calls into question her very abilities as a judge.

Justice Susanne Goodman failed to produce reasons for acquittal despite request from Crown

Ontario's Court of Appeal has thrown out an acquittal in a sexual assault trial and ordered a new one after the trial judge failed to deliver her reasons for her ruling. Canada's judicial watchdog is now looking into the judge's conduct. (CBC)

Canada's judicial watchdog is initiating a complaint against Ontario Superior Court Justice Susanne Goodman after the province's appeal court issued a blistering rebuke of her judicial duties.

In a decision handed down Thursday, Ontario Court of Appeal Justices David Paciocco, Jean MacFarland and David Doherty quashed Goodman's acquittal of Stanislaw Sliwka, who was accused of viciously physically and sexually assaulting a woman over several months. The judges ordered a new trial.

"Our order directing a new trial is a terrible result for everyone involved in this proceeding," the justices wrote. "The trial judge's failure to give reasons, despite her repeated promises to do so, has frustrated the proper administration of justice."

Not only that, the justices noted this wasn't the first time Goodman had failed to do her job.

"Nor is this the first time that this trial judge's failure to provide reasons has required this court to order a new trial. It must be the last time," reads the ruling.

Norman Sabourin, executive director of the Canadian Judicial Council, told CBC News Thursday that he had read the decision from the appeal court relating to the Sliwka case and had "decided to initiate a complaint against Justice Goodman, in keeping with my authority," 

Goodman acquitted Sliwka on all charges on March 11, 2016, without thoroughly explaining how she arrived at her decision. She told the court she needed three more days to issue her detailed written reasons.

She never did.

Crown counsel, who wanted to appeal the decision, was stuck. After months of contacting the trial judge's office and not getting a written decision, the prosecutor wrote directly to Goodman to advise her that "as no reasons had been produced, the Crown would argue that the appeal should proceed on the basis that no further reasons for judgement existed."

Goodman never responded.

'Brief' oral comments

In her submission to the Court of Appeal, the Crown's lawyer Karen Shai argued that Goodman's "brief comments on March 11, 2016, were never intended as an adequate explanation of her acquittal of the respondent on all counts."

Counsel for the accused in the case submitted that while brief and "arguably less than can reasonably be expected from a trial judge, [the comments] adequately explained the trial judge's reasons for acquitting the respondent." The submission added that if the Crown really wanted to appeal the verdict, prosecutors could just review the trial record.

The panel of appeal court judges had none of it.

"Trial judges must give reasons for their verdicts. Reasons that explain to the parties and the public the result arrived at by the trial judge are crucial to maintaining the proper level of transparency and accountability essential to the maintenance of the integrity of the trial process and public confidence in the process," they wrote in Thursday's decision.

As for Goodman's brief oral comments at the time of her verdict, the appeal court said she didn't explain how she analyzed evidence or contradictions in testimony. They said her "silence" on evidence given by police raises questions, not to mention the fact she never addressed each of the eight counts separately.

"There is no way of knowing how the trial judge arrived at her verdicts. Without any semblance of a road map to those verdicts, the Crown's right to appeal from the acquittals is rendered illusory," wrote the panel.

Goodman was a family lawyer before she was appointed to Ontario's Superior Court in 2000. 

The Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a new trial in another one of Goodman's cases in 2011 after she took 25 months to deliver her ruling in the case of a man who'd been caught carrying a loaded weapon.

Corrections

  • This story has been edited to correct an earlier version that attributed a submission to the Court of Appeal to Justice Goodman. In fact, the submission, which argued that Goodman's comments were adequate in explaining her reasons for acquittal, was from counsel for the respondent, or accused, in the case.
    May 26, 2017 8:36 AM ET

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