Local court may be down to last day 

Jack Le Blanc
Local News - Friday, October 08, 2004 @ 10:00

There may be just one day of judicial coverage left at Quinte West’s drastically-reduced criminal court this year, and that’s cause for concern by court staff and users.

So far, judicial coverage for the remainder of the year consists of newly-appointed justice, Jeff Griffin of Napanee, who is slated to sit in Trenton Tues., Nov. 2.

It’s unknown at this time if any judicial coverage is scheduled for the Trenton criminal court in December.

A justice of the peace continues to sit in Trenton twice a month to remand cases, but only a judge can accept pleas or hear preliminary hearings or trials.

Quinte West – population 42,000 – had four fully-staffed court days per month until April of this year. At that point Justice Stephen Hunter said he was directed to reduce Trenton’s criminal court dates by 50 per cent, to the first and third Tuesday of each month.

Now it appears judicial coverage in Trenton criminal court has been reduced to one day a month or less. Brighton – population 10,000 – by comparison, has judicial coverage two days per month, on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

A Quinte West court users committee consisting of representatives of the legal community, police and other professions serving the court, put forward a report recommending full judicial coverage in an expanded court.

That report was forwarded by Mayor Bob Campney to Attorney General Michael Bryant in the summer, but there has been no response from the province save for a letter from Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi.

Campney said earlier he’s afraid there’s a move afoot to have Trenton’s criminal court closed and all cases shipped to Belleville despite the increased cost and inconvenience this would cause court users.

Rinaldi, in a letter to Campney, says “The Ministry of the Attorney General is committed to ensuring citizens in Belleville and Quinte West have access to court services and timely justice. At this time the ministry is working with the judiciary to review the scheduling of cases in order to determine the most effective and efficient way to provide court services in Belleville and Trenton. No final decisions have been made.”

Justice of the peace Sheila Matchett, who held remand court in Trenton Tuesday, was forced to send all pre-trials (evidence discussed between prosecution and defence in front of a judge to see if there’s common ground for a solution) to the Nov. 2 date.

“We don’t have any choice really (for pre-trials) for this court,” she said. “We’re not sure if Dec. 7 (Trenton criminal court) will have judicial (judge) coverage.”

“If it’s Justice (Jeff) Griffin it will be trial by fire,” Legal Aid Ontario Duty Counsel Supervisor Lee St. Aubin said Tuesday at Trenton’s criminal court. “It’s (Nov. 2) going to be a busy day.”

At one point St. Aubin suggested “we may be approaching absurdity” trying to squeeze additional pre-trials into an already insanely crowded Nov. 2 Trenton criminal court.

“I think so,” Matchett agreed.

The Trenton courtroom at 80 Division St. was overcrowded – there were over 77 people listed on Tuesday’s docket – with the overflow accommodated outside in a hallway and waiting room. Tempers flared briefly when one woman could be heard swearing and causing a commotion in the hallway.

Military police officer Cpl. Barry Lannin left the court to try and restore peace in the hallway. OPP court officer Const. Dave Morgan had to go to assist when the screaming continued.

Quinte West OPP prisoner escort officers did not arrive until after the fracas, and there was no other police security available in the building at the time of the incident.

Matchett suggested Morgan arrange for greater court security on Nov. 2 because “it’s going to be packed (crowded with people awaiting their remand, pre-trial, preliminary hearing, trial or sentencing). It’s very full, both in pre-trial and remand.”