No sanction for Ontario judge who repeatedly failed to give reasons for decisions

An interior of a courtroom at Old City Hall court in Toronto. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

TORONTO – An Ontario Superior Court justice who repeatedly failed to provide reasons for her judgments has apologized and mended her ways, the Canadian Judicial Council said on Thursday.

In closing its review of Justice Susanne Goodman without sanctioning her, the council said the issue has been satisfactorily addressed and a “number of accommodations and remedial measures” had been implemented.

“A Superior Court judge must have the capacity and ability to perform all of the normal judicial functions that attach to the office,” Nova Scotia Chief Justice Michael MacDonald said in a statement.

“One of these judicial functions is to be diligent in the delivery of reserved judgements, with reasonable promptness.”

MacDonald, the chairman of the council’s judicial conduct committee, undertook the review after Ontario’s highest court made blistering comments against Goodman in a decision in May last year. In its ruling, the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal of a man accused of beating and sexually assaulting a woman.

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In ordering Stanislaw Sliwka to face a new trial, the Appeal Court, which called it a “terrible result,” expressed dismay at Goodman’s repeated failure to provide reasons for the acquittal and noted the case wasn’t the first time she had shown such behaviour.

“The trial judge’s failure to give reasons, despite her repeated promises to do so, has frustrated the proper administration of justice,” Justice David Doherty wrote for the court. “Nor is this the first time that this trial judge’s failure to provide reasons has required this court to order a new trial. It must be the last time.”

After hearing from Ontario Chief Justice Heather Forster Smith as well as from Goodman, a Superior Court judge for 18 years, MacDonald decided the issues at play had been addressed and her conduct would not be repeated.

“Key to his decision to close the matter was the fact that Justice Goodman experienced a medical condition, now resolved, which was at the root of her difficulties,” the council said. “Justice Goodman and her chief justice have set out a number of specific and comprehensive measures to ensure that she discharges all aspects of her judicial responsibilities in a timely manner.”

The council did not immediately provide details of what remedial measures or accommodations had been put in place.

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However, it said Goodman had expressed “deep regret” about the impact of her actions on litigants who appeared before her and to public confidence in the justice system generally.

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“She has undertaken to ensure that the situation never repeats itself,” the council said in its statement.

In the case that triggered the probe, Goodman dismissed all charges against Sliwka in March 2016. He had been charged after a distressed woman called 911 from an apartment in March 2014 and police found her badly beaten.

At his nine-day trial, the woman accused Sliwka of repeatedly physically and sexually assaulting her over many months when she lived with him. He denied the assaults, calling her a drunk who sometimes hurt herself when she fell and also blaming her injuries on an unknown intruder.

Goodman said orally her acquittal was based on a reasonable doubt as to his guilt and promised detailed written reasons would flow quickly. She never delivered, even after prosecution lawyers asked time and again.

Council spokeswoman Johanna Laporte said in an email Thursday there had been no issue with the quality of Goodman’s decisions – only their timeliness.

“Justice Goodman and Chief Justice Heather Smith have discussed and established clear timelines for the release of all reserved decisions to the satisfaction of Chief Justice MacDonald,” Laporte said.

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MacDonald said Goodman was now discharging her judicial duties in an “effective and timely” manner.

“Failure to uphold these obligations can have a detrimental effect on public confidence in the judiciary,” MacDonald said.

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