Globe and Mail

Lobbying not improper, judicial body says

Council clears judge who urged Flaherty to take action against domestic abuse

Monday, May 13, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A15
The Globe and Mail

JUSTICE REPORTER -- An Ontario Court judge has been cleared of accusations that she compromised her impartiality by lobbying a provincial cabinet minister to take action against domestic abuse.

The Ontario Judicial Council concluded that a "reasonable, fair-minded, informed member of the public" would not view Judge Lesley Baldwin's behaviour as misconduct.

The issue erupted in 2000, several months after a committee, chaired by Judge Baldwin, issued its report in a high-profile domestic abuse case. The victim in the case, Arlene May, was killed by her estranged husband, Randy Iles.

The committee's report contained hundreds of recommendations for improving the detection, prevention and prosecution of domestic abuse cases. After its release, Judge Baldwin returned to the bench and resumed her duties.

However, in a July 24, 2000, letter to James Flaherty, who was then Ontario's attorney-general, she expressed concern that nothing had changed in the way domestic abuse cases were being prosecuted in the year since the report's release.

In addition, Judge Baldwin forwarded a frustrated letter from the committee members, and said she endorsed their opinions.

Judge Baldwin, who helped prosecute the notorious Paul Bernardo murder case in 1995, also asked to meet with Mr. Flaherty to discuss the problem. The meeting was held a week later and Judge Baldwin attended, along with three other members of the by then disbanded committee. All went well until a member of the committee released a copy of her letter to the media. Several complaints were then made to the judicial council, including one from an influential defence lawyers' group.

When the case against her was heard last month, a lawyer for the judicial council, Douglas Hunt, suggested that Judge Baldwin had been "used" by domestic-abuse activists to cajole the province into reforming its laws and procedures.

In its ruling, the council noted that Judge Baldwin's use of her judicial letterhead to send a letter to the attorney-general "may not have been the most appropriate way" for her to prompt action. However, it said her actions fell short of damaging her independence and integrity.

"The issue is whether the sending of the letter and its contents are so seriously contrary to the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary that they would undermine the public's confidence in the ability of the judge to perform the duties of her office -- or the public's confidence, generally, in the administration of justice," the council said.

It said that nothing in the committee's report or Judge Baldwin's letter, indicated specific sentences should be imposed against spousal abusers, or that rules of evidence and the presumption of innocence should be changed.

"We note as well that Justice Baldwin did not intend that the letter receive public notice," the council added. "It was not written with a view to bringing public pressure on the government. There is no effort by Justice Baldwin to politically embarrass the government for not acting on the committee's report."

Composed of judges, lawyers and a lay member, OJC panels are responsible for assessing complaints and, where necessary, disciplining judges. The Baldwin hearing had the distinction of being the first open proceeding held by a provincial judicial council.

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