Globe and Mail

Stop the shameful treatment of Judge Moreau-Bérubé

ROBERT PICHETTE
The Globe and Mail
Monday, August 16, 1999

in NEW BRUNSWICK --

The charge is prepar'd, the lawyers are met;
The judges all rang'd (a terrible show!).
- John Gay, The Beggar's Opera

In February, 1998, New Brunswick Provincial Court Judge Jocelyne Moreau-Bérubé displayed a shocking lack of judgment that haunts her still and may even ruin her life. After a particularly gruelling day in court, deeply concerned by the health of her mother, the judge let go from the bench a tirade in which she grossly defamed the entire Acadian population in her jurisdiction, on the north shore of New Brunswick.

She bluntly stated that if a poll were taken in the area to determine who was honest and who was not, the dishonest citizens would win. She added: "People in the Acadian Peninsula have difficulty trusting those who live beside them or in front of them." For good measure she said that the citizens of the Acadian Peninsula "don't like having the finger pointed at them. This causes me some pain to say because I live in the peninsula. It's home. Look at the honest people in the Acadian Peninsula. They are very few and certainly very rare."

The outcry that followed these injudicious remarks was swift and understandably angry. A few days later, the judge apologized unreservedly in open court, admitting that she had "made an enormous mistake" and that she had "never doubted, and absolutely [does] not doubt, the honesty and integrity of the people of the Acadian Peninsula."

That apology could not prevent a plethora of complaints to the New Brunswick Judicial Council, which, in accordance with its act, appointed a fact-finding committee. The committee heard the complainants as well as the judge and her lawyers. Eventually it reported to the council that the remarks were derogatory, but that the judge had not meant them to be taken literally; that she had duly apologized and that, after her public ordeal, she was not likely to reoffend.

Accordingly, the committee recommended to the judicial council that a reprimand would suffice. However, the council threw out its committee's report on the ground that it was not empowered to make recommendations. The council then proceeded to recommend Judge Moreau-Bérubé's dismissal by the then-Liberal government, which was bound in law to accept the council's recommendation.

The summarily dismissed judge appealed the decision to the Court of Queen's Bench. Last month, in a tightly worded decision, a judge of that court ordered her reinstatement on the ground, among others, that she had been denied natural justice.

Her victory was short-lived. Brad Green, the province's new Minister of Justice, did reinstate her, but he announced that she would not be assigned a caseload since the province was considering an appeal. Within days, the judicial council and the Justice Department joined forces to lodge an appeal of the court's decision.

The provincial government went further, asking that the Court of Queen's Bench's decision be stayed until the appeal was heard this fall. And, in a wretchedly mean move, it asked that Judge Moreau-Bérubé not receive her salary pending the outcome of that appeal. The result is that the original decision has now been stayed by the higher court, and she is again deprived of an income.

"Off with her head!" seems to be the rallying cry of the judicial council and Justice Department in their frenzied attempt to keep Ms. Moreau-Bérubé permanently off the bench. This unseemly rush to judgment is highlighted by the swift appointment last week of a replacement. The new judge will take up her post in the first week of September.

Lawyers for the council and the government argue that Judge Moreau-Bérubé has become unfit to hear cases, having irretrievably lost her credibility as a judge. This statement is mendacious, since the judge discharged her judicial duties for 14 months during the inquiry and there were no complaints about her behaviour. She was not suspended during the inquiry, as the judicial council had the power to do. What reasonable person would now believe that she has suddenly become unfit?

Admittedly, her original remarks render her unfit to sit in her former jurisdiction. However, in the guise of the ponderous judicial process, what we are witnessing is the harassment of a judge through the political process and public opinion. She is being punished not for what she said but for her general behaviour in court; since her appointment to the bench in 1995, she has established a reputation for browbeating accused, witnesses and lawyers, to say nothing of her irritating habit of delivering impromptu moral sermonettes. To say that she is not popular with the legal and judicial fraternities is an understatement.

Deprived of a livelihood, the hapless judge is expected to pay her legal costs, and it is hard to imagine how she could take her case to the Supreme Court of Canada in the event that the New Brunswick Court of Appeal finds against her.

This has become a truly terrible show in which the punishment does not fit the of- fence. Surely the time has come for mercy to season justice.

Robert Pichette is an Acadian writer and journalist in Moncton. He can be reached by E-mail at: dauphin@nbnet.nb.ca

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