Court rules inquiry into nude photos of judge could cause 'irreparable harm'

WINNIPEG – A Federal Court justice has ruled that a disciplinary hearing into the conduct of a Manitoba judge whose nude photos ended up on the Internet could cause “irreparable harm” unless it is put on hold.

The Canadian Judicial Council hearing into Queen’s Bench Justice Lori Douglas has dragged on for three years and was supposed to resume this summer.

Justice Judith Snider said salacious details about the case could arise at the inquiry and damage the judge’s reputation unless the hearing is put on hold pending a judicial review. The review is to determine whether the council’s panel of five judges is biased against Douglas.

“In my view, the applicant has demonstrated that irreparable harm to her personal and professional reputation will result if the court declines to grant a stay,” Snider wrote in a ruling released late Friday.

“Irreparable harm is harm that cannot be quantified in monetary terms or which cannot be remedied by damages.”

Douglas’s good reputation is closely connected to “the concept of human dignity underlying all charter rights,” said Snider, who pointed out that more embarrassing details could come to light if the inquiry resumed as scheduled.

“I emphasize that this case implicates the disclosure of intimate and personal information in the context of a public inquiry which has been the subject of significant publicity,” Snider wrote.

“The applicant raises the possibility that very personal information may be revealed through witnesses and that she herself may have to testify. Hence, the sensitive nature of the personal information which may be disclosed if the proceedings are permitted to continue supports a finding of irreparable harm.”

Calls to the Canadian Judicial Council were not immediately returned.

The saga began three years ago when Alex Chapman filed a complaint with the council accusing Douglas of sexual harassment. Chapman alleged the judge’s husband, Winnipeg lawyer Jack King, sent him nude photos of his wife and wanted Chapman to have sex with her.

King was representing Chapman in a divorce case at the time. Chapman complained to King’s law firm and King settled the matter within weeks by paying Chapman $25,000 to return all the photos and to never discuss the matter.

The inquiry, which has been mired in procedural delays and court challenges, is also supposed to examine whether Douglas failed to disclose the matter when she was appointed a judge in 2005 and whether the very existence of the photos should disqualify her from continuing as a judge.

Douglas, who rose to become associate chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, has denied all the allegations. Both she and King have said he acted alone without her knowledge and was suffering from depression at the time. Douglas is on paid leave and she is still married to King.

Her lawyers and the former independent lawyer leading the inquiry both accused the council of bias and asked the Federal Court almost a year ago to stay the disciplinary hearing.

Karen Busby, professor with the University of Manitoba’s faculty of law, said the inquiry is likely to be delayed at least a year, if not two. It will take months for the judicial council to determine the potential of bias and then there is a window for appeals, she said.

Once that concludes, the inquiry would have to get running again and that could take another year, Busby said.

“There is always a harm in delay. There is psychological harm. You’ve got something hanging over your head and you can’t get on with your life,” she said. “There is danger in that, but from Douglas’s perspective, the greater danger was to have a hearing go ahead before a biased panel.”