Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's, Justice Cosgrove! Clean Out Your Desk

Cross-posted from Law is Cool

The Canadian Judicial Council released its report yesterday that Justice Paul Cosgrove "failed in the execution of the duties of his judicial office" and recommended that Parliament strip him of his position as superior court judge.

In spite of Cosgrove's public apology for the debacle, and repudiation of his own ruling, the CJC report noted that "public confidence in his ability to discharge [his judicial] duties in future has been irrevocably lost."

The recommendation related to Cosgrove's conduct while presiding over the first-degree murder trial of Julia Elliott in 1997. Cosgrove found that police and Crown officials violated the Charter rights of the accused on over 150 occasions, and ordered her release. In 2003, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that Cosgrove J.'s findings were without merit and ordered Elliott to be retried. She pleaded guilty in 2005. Attorney General Michael Bryant complained to the CJC thereafter.

The CJC canvassed the misconduct giving rise to the ruling of abuse of process, which included:

  • giving rise to an apprehension of bias;
  • repeated and unwarranted interference in the activities of the Crown and the RCMP;
  • unfounded threats of arrest or citation for contempt;
  • rude, abusive or intemperate language; and
  • arbitrarily suppressing a federal immigration warrant.

The disgraced judge's fate now lies with federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and his recommendation to Parliament.

In December, Cosgrove will turn 75, the age when judges are required to retire. Should Parliament break with longstanding tradition and take swift action against him before then, Cosgrove stands to lose his $170,000 annual pension.

Cosgrove sat on the bench for 25 years. Prior to his appointment in 1984, he served as public works commissioner and as the mayor of Scarborough.

This would mark the first time Parliament has removed a judge from office. In 1996, Justice Jean Bienvenue narrowly avoided that honour by resigning before the axe could fall.

Chances to kick a superior court judge while he's down come seldom, and The Other Half would hate to pass up that chance in favour of such a fleeting virtue as decorum -- why, if the undoing of Cosgrove J. has taught us anything, it's that 25 years of decorum can be dashed by a mere 150 unfounded determinations of police misconduct. As such, the following are some helpful suggestions to sitting judges, derived from Cosgrove J.'s ongoing misfortune:

  1. So your peers in the Canadian judiciary feel you've undermined confidence in the justice system and brought shame upon the silk robe; discretion is the better part of valour! Apologize early and often.
  2. When levying baseless threats and accusations of misconduct against the police and Crown, ask yourself: how much is too much?
  3. It is never too late to cultivate a personal relationship with the Attorney General. After all, political connections got you the job in the first place!

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