Toronto Star

Jan. 31, 12:26 EDT

Judge comes under attack

Complaint about letter filed with judicial council

Tracey Tyler
The Toronto Star

LESLEY BALDWIN: Neutrality of Ontario Court of Justice judge questioned.

A judge who complained that the province hasn't moved quickly enough to reform the way domestic violence cases are handled by the justice system is the subject of a complaint to Ontario's Judicial Council.

By speaking out the way she did - as well as chairing a committee and calling for a summit on spousal abuse - Madam Justice Lesley Baldwin has shown she is incapable of approaching these cases with neutrality, the complaint alleges.

If Baldwin feels she must speak out, she should resign first, not express her views from a judge's platform, on court letterhead no less, said Criminal Lawyers' Association president Alan Gold.

"Justice Baldwin sits in the criminal courts where these cases are daily prosecuted," Gold said in the association's recent complaint to the council, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct.

"The judiciary should not be advising the executive on how to control a serious social problem through the use of the criminal courts," he said in the complaint, published in the latest edition of the association's newsletter.

"There are fundamentally political and policy questions," he said. "They are also controversial."

The association's complaint was triggered by a letter Baldwin sent to Attorney-General Jim Flaherty, which was published in The Star last year.

It was a covering letter that accompanied a request from a group called the Joint Committee on Domestic Violence. Baldwin, who sits on the Ontario Court of Justice in St. Catharines, chaired the committee.

The committee was set up to find ways to implement recommendations from a 1998 coroner's inquest into the death of Arlene May of Collingwood, who was shot to death by her boyfriend, Randy Iles. Among other things, the coroner's jury called for tougher penalties for people who breach court orders and less freedom for police in deciding whether to lay charges.

The committee asked Flaherty to move immediately in reprinting and distributing its report and to consider helping them to host a summit on spousal abuse.

Baldwin said she endorsed the committee's requests and added that she has seen "no noticeable change" in the manner in which lawyers are approaching these cases in court.

"With respect, she is not entitled to express her opinion to the attorney-general about how crown and defence counsel present these cases in her court," Gold said in the letter.

Baldwin declined comment when her office was contacted by The Star.

If the council decides there has been misconduct, it can impose penalties ranging from issuing a warning to a judge to recommending removal from office.

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