Labrador judge reprimanded for 2014 comments about prosecutors, Legal Aid

·4 min read
Judge John Joy is pictured in an undated file photo. A tribunal has reprimanded Joy, finding that his conduct was deserving of sanction, in the wake of complaints filed in 2014 by Legal Aid and Newfoundland and Labrador's director of public prosecutions. (CBC - image credit)
Judge John Joy is pictured in an undated file photo. A tribunal has reprimanded Joy, finding that his conduct was deserving of sanction, in the wake of complaints filed in 2014 by Legal Aid and Newfoundland and Labrador's director of public prosecutions. (CBC - image credit)

A provincial court judge has been reprimanded over comments critical of Crown attorneys and Legal Aid lawyers in Labrador back in 2014.

The tribunal's decision now appears to be final, after a seven-year process that ran up to seven figures in legal fees — a bill footed by taxpayers — and concluded long after John Joy retired from the bench.

Last summer, a tribunal found that Joy's conduct was deserving of sanction.

The list of possible consequences included suspension or even removal from the bench.

But since Joy retired in 2017, the tribunal found that the "only realistic option" was a reprimand.

Joy appealed the tribunal's twin decisions, stemming from two separate complaints filed under the provincial court act — one from the director of public prosecutions, and the other from Legal Aid.

But finally, last month, he abandoned both of those appeals at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

Series of motions filed with tribunal and at court

Over the years, Joy's lawyer filed multiple procedural motions with the tribunal and at Supreme Court, taking issue with various aspects of the process.

Taxpayers footed legal bills of nearly $1 million up to the end of 2019, according to documents obtained by CBC News through access to information.

According to government records, the bulk of that amount — a shade under $700,000 — went to Lewis Day, the law firm representing Joy.

In an email to CBC News, lawyer David Day said the province's legal counsel "has always been vigilant in scrutinizing my invoices."

He added that those invoices were subject to assessment and taxation by a master of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, if the province requested. That process gives the authority to review and assess whether a lawyer's legal fees are reasonable for the services provided. Day said the full amounts of the invoices assessed through that process were approved.

First complaint related to emailed memorandum

The first of the two proceedings related to an email Joy sent to lawyers, court officials, and other judges in March 2014.

Donovan Molloy — who was then Newfoundland and Labrador's director of public prosecutions, and has since been appointed as a judge in the Northwest Territories — filed the complaint.

Molloy's testimony to the tribunal took issue with Joy's suggestion that "Crown attorneys were practicing contrary to the code of conduct" and "allegations of racial bias."

Molloy said those suggestions "had a really significant potential to impair and prejudice the confidence of the public in the administration of justice in Labrador in particular but, potentially, in the province as a whole."

CBC
CBC

In its decision, the tribunal noted that Joy "conveyed a sincere desire to remedy the issues he perceived as problematic for court operations in Labrador."

But the tribunal said Joy's memorandum went "well beyond what would reasonably be considered acceptable commentary by a judge," and contained "unfounded accusations of misconduct" by Crown attorneys.

"Throughout the long history of these proceedings [Joy] has never acknowledged that the criticisms of the Crown attorneys and director of public prosecutions or the language he used in the memorandum were inappropriate," the decision noted.

2nd complaint from Legal Aid

The Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission also filed a complaint against Joy, both for comments he made in open court in Natuashish in early 2014 and also via the emailed memorandum sent out soon after.

Joy's courtroom remarks critical of a junior Legal Aid lawyer were "perhaps not a model of patience or courtesy," the tribunal found, but didn't violate ethical principles for judges.

The memorandum, however, was another story, containing "unfounded accusations of misconduct" by Legal Aid lawyers.

"Neither the shortcomings in the justice system nor the perceived difficulties in his relationship or channels of communication with the Office of the Chief Judge are justification for [Joy] to criticize [Legal Aid] in the manner that he did," the decision noted.

"The tribunal is satisfied that the commentary in the memorandum gives rise to a reasonable apprehension of a lack of impartiality which could call into question [Joy's] capacity to perform the duties of his office."

The three-member tribunal was composed of a judge from Prince Edward Island, the chief justice of Newfoundland and Labrador's Court of Appeal, and a non-lawyer.

Under the province's judicial indemnity policy, taxpayers foot the bill for external legal fees incurred as part of the process.

None of the parties involved provided comment to CBC News on the tribunal's decisions.

The emailed statement from Joy's lawyer addressed only the issue of legal fees.

Legal Aid officials and Molloy declined to comment.

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