Review committee to investigate complaint against judge

·3 min read

A review committee has been appointed to investigate a complaint by former lawyer Lyle Howe against Dartmouth-based Judge Alanna Murphy.

Judge Michael Sherar, appointed by the Nova Scotia Provincial Judges Association, Darlene Lamey, appointed by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society and David Merrigan, appointed by the Attorney General of Nova Scotia, will form the committee.

Both parties were informed of the appointments by Michael J. Wood, the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, in a letter provided to CBC News by Howe.

The requirements for appointments to the Review Committee of the Nova Scotia Judicial Council are laid out in the Provincial Court Act.

Howe wrote a letter to Chief Judge Pamela Williams last June setting out two complaints against Murphy.

The first complaint related to events connected to a pre-trial conference on Feb. 13, 2014. The second related to allegations that Murphy behaved inappropriately in forwarding certain materials to the barristers' society.

Howe found guilty of professional incompetence

Williams recommended the dismissal of the pre-trial complaint and the referral of the second complaint to a review committee.

Howe was found guilty of professional incompetence and professional misconduct by a Nova Scotia Barristers' Society hearing panel on Jul. 17, 2017 and was disbarred by the panel later that year.

Howe said the procedure was tainted by racism.

Howe said Murphy was "hyper-vigilant" and biased against him and contends that the society's complaint process is not intended to hear complaints from judges.

"So the hyper-vigilance is Black people doing the exact same thing as white people but getting recognized for it more and getting treated differently for it as a result, and their actions are really interpreted very different," he told CBC News.

Review committee has options

Under provisions of the Act, the review committee may dismiss the complaint, resolve the complaint with the agreement of the judge, or refer the complaint to a hearing of the judicial council.

In a letter dated Jan. 13, Wood told members of the committee "it is not your function to reach any final conclusion with respect to the merits of the complaint by Mr. Howe."

"That will be the responsibility of the Judicial Council should you choose to refer the complaint to a hearing before them," he said.

The Act gives the judicial council the power to dismiss the complaint or to impose disciplinary action including recommending the judge be removed from office.

Because of judicial independence, Howe, the person making the complaint, represents a source of information to the committee and the council but he is not a formal party to the process.

No timeline for deliberations

Murphy is a party to the procedure and is entitled to receive information provided to the review committee.

While the Act does not specify a timeline for deliberations, the committee has been asked to deliver a decision as "soon as reasonably possible."

Although Howe had previously said "Hell, no" when asked if he would reconsider reapplying to practise law, he said if he were to be treated the same as his peers and not targeted and discriminated against, he might reapply.

"I'd consider going back to practise at some point in the future because I really did love practising law," he said.

CBC News has not seen what material, if any, was sent by Murphy to the barristers' society.

Murphy has been offered the opportunity to comment on the matter but no response has been received.