Toronto Star

Apr. 4, 01:00 EDT

Judge under review for letter sent to Flaherty

Correspondence a `gentle reminder' of task force proposals

Tracey Tyler
Legal Affairs Reporter
Toronto Star

An Ontario judge accused of acting as a lobbyist for domestic abuse victims was trying to "save lives or serious bodily harm" when she sent a letter to the province's attorney-general endorsing measures aimed at reducing spousal assault, an Ontario Judicial Council inquiry has been told.

Madam Justice Lesley Baldwin wants "this council and the public to know" she remains committed to judging these cases with "an open mind," her lawyer, Earl Levy, told the council yesterday.

Her letter to former attorney-general Jim Flaherty on July 7, 2000 was simply "a gentle reminder" that the province was lagging behind in implementing the recommendations of a domestic violence task force she once chaired, he said.

"What should she have done? Nothing? Sloughed off the concerns of her committee?" asked Levy, arguing that his client's actions fall far short of the alleged misconduct lying at the heart of a complaint heard by the council at a downtown Toronto hotel.

The Criminal Lawyers Association of Ontario and of Niagara, two defence lawyers and a member of the public filed complaints with the council after Baldwin's letter was leaked to the media the week after it was written.

In the letter, Baldwin endorses requests by the task force for assistance from the province in organizing a summit on "woman abuse" and in reprinting its report in an easier to read format. She also adds that she has "observed no noticeable change" in how lawyers are approaching domestic abuse cases in court.

Collectively, the complainants allege Baldwin continued dealing with the executive branch of government on criminal justice policy issues long after her term on the task force expired in August, 1999. In doing so, she aligned herself with one side of an at-times contentious policy debate, raising questions about her impartiality.

`What should she have done? Nothing? Sloughed off the concerns of her committee?'

Earl Levy
Justice Baldwin's lawyer

But Levy suggested the question is really one of, "When is it appropriate for a sitting judge to speak out?

"There is nothing in the letter of July 7 suggesting Justice Baldwin does not have an open mind in deciding the guilt or innocence of an accused person."

Levy said there was an "umbilical link" between Baldwin's letter and her work as chairperson of the task force.

But inquiry counsel Doug Hunt disagreed. Any time a judge steps away from duties to perform work at the behest of government it is "a special event" and the time away from judicial obligations is not "open-ended," he said, urging the council to "approach with caution" any suggestion that the letter amounted to a "tidying up" of her task force's work.

The case proceeded yesterday on the basis of an agreed statement of underlying facts, which begin in 1998, after a lengthy coroner's inquest into a Collingwood murder-suicide. Arlene May was shot to death by her boyfriend, Randy Iles.

The coroner's jury recommended a task force be set up to ensure its recommendations were put into practise. Charles Harnick, who was attorney-general, asked Sidney Linden, then the chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, if Baldwin could head the committee.

Hunt noted one difficulty for the council is that the legislation governing yesterday's hearing doesn't include any definition of what constitutes judicial misconduct. As a result, the council must look at how other bodies, such as the Canadian Judicial Council, have defined misconduct.

The council reserved decision.

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