Judge asks court to nix discipline hearing over family cottage concerns

Judge asks court to nix discipline hearing

OTTAWA — A judge is asking the Federal Court of Canada to halt disciplinary proceedings related to his involvement in an indigenous land-claim settlement where his family owns a cottage.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Frank Newbould wants the court to prohibit the Canadian Judicial Council from taking further steps concerning complaints about his participation in the land dispute.

Newbould says a judicial council review panel lacked the authority to order an inquiry after the matter was closed two years earlier.

His job could hang in the balance, though it might prove moot, since he plans to retire June 1.

It all began in late August 2014 when the judicial council received complaints about Newbould’s involvement in a public consultation on the proposed settlement of a Saugeen First Nation land claim with respect to the resort town of Sauble Beach, Ont.

Newbould’s family has owned a cottage property there for nearly a century.

In a submission to the Federal Court, Newbould says he wrote in a “personal capacity” to the mayor and town councillors regarding the settlement and the merits of the land claim.

The judicial council notified Newbould in September 2014 of five complaints and invited him to provide written submissions to a conduct committee.

Newbould says he took full responsibility and apologized for his actions in light of the perception he was acting in his capacity as a judge rather than as a private citizen.

The chairman of the conduct committee opted to close the file, which he was entitled to do given that Newbould acknowledged his error and no further measures were considered necessary.

Two additional complaints came in the ensuing months, and in each case the file was once again closed.

One of the complainants, Koren Lightning-Earle, president of the Indigenous Bar Association, asked for a reconsideration of the concerns in June 2015.

The matter was handed to another member of the conduct committee, who referred it to a review panel. In turn, the panel ordered an inquiry committee to investigate.

The panel members agreed that, if proven, the allegations “surrounding the intervention of Justice Newbould in the context of a court case, could be so serious that they may warrant the judge’s removal from office,” the judicial council said last week in a news release.

“It’s important to note that all allegations regarding the judge have not been proven,” the release said. “The inquiry committee will have the responsibility of establishing the facts about this case and of presenting a report to the council.”

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Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press