B.C. judges apologized 4 times in a year

Remarks by judges — and how they said them — were at the centre of most complaints examined by the chief judge of B.C.'s provincial court in 2017.

Out of hundreds of complaints against judges submitted that year, four resulted in apologies over inappropriate comments or tone of voice, according to the court's annual report for 2017/2018. The yearly roundup of the court's activities includes summaries of all the complaints that were examined, none of which were considered serious enough to result in discipline for judges.

The report was released earlier this month, and it shows that 352 letters of complaint about judicial officers were submitted to former chief judge Thomas Crabtree. A total of 335 were not within his jurisdiction, the report says — most of those were essentially attempted appeals of court decisions.

By the end of the year, Crabtree had resolved 16 complaints, including some that were left over from 2016. No details are given about the names or locations of the judges, judicial justices or judicial case managers in the report.

Here are details of the four apologies issued by judges in 2017:

1. Laughing in court

A participant in a family law matter alleged the judge had laughed at him or her and used the word "stupid."

"The judge acknowledged that she had laughed during the proceedings, although she was not laughing at the complainant. However, she agreed that it was inappropriate to laugh in court and it was ill-advised to use the word 'stupid' when speaking about an email that had been sent."

2. The fashion critic

This is another complaint from family court. The complaint pointed out that the judge complimented the opposing party's clothes, calling the remarks "very unprofessional."

"The judge noted that the exchange occurred within the context of trying to establish some rapport with the party at the beginning of the hearing. The judge extended her sincere apologies for anything said during the hearing that caused the complainant to believe she was behaving in an unprofessional manner."

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3. Serenity now

A father made a series of complaints about the judge in his family law matter and an audio recordings of one of his hearings backed up the allegation that the judge had raised his voice.

"The judge was reminded of the responsibility on judicial officers to seek to maintain a level of calm and serenity, even in the face of challenging circumstances, so as to provide confidence to parties and observers that judicial authority is being exercised fairly and in an evenhanded manner."

4. Waste management

A participant in a small claims settlement conference said a judge asked her why she'd bothered showing up if she had no intention of making a settlement offer, and said she'd "wasted" taxpayers' money.

"The judge apologized if his language and effort to persuade the complainant to discuss a compromise caused offence and noted that his intention was to focus the complainant on the purpose of the conference."

The annual report also summarizes the court's caseload, judge appointments and retirements, and the activities of specialized Indigenous, drug treatment and community courts.

The Provincial Court Act allows anyone to file a complaint about judicial officers by writing a letter to the chief judge. Complaints about judges at the B.C. Supreme Court or Court of Appeal level are handled by the Canadian Judicial Council.

The provincial court's chief judge will examine a complaint if it concerns judicial misconduct and open an investigation if necessary.