Judge faces rare hearing on conduct

Inquiry to determine whether veteran jurist who fought city can continue to sit on bench

Jan 09, 2008 04:30 AM

Legal Affairs Reporter

After more than 26 years of judging others, the tables have turned on Justice Ted Matlow, who's fighting allegations he misused his judicial office in a personal battle against the city.

When plans were unveiled for a six-storey parking garage and retail complex in the judge's Forest Hill neighbourhood in 2002, Matlow suddenly found himself president of "Friends of the Village," a ratepayers' group opposed to the project.

He waged a "persistent" email campaign to get a municipal affairs columnist to write about the issue, a five-member panel heard yesterday as a rare Canadian Judicial Council inquiry got underway in Toronto.

"I thought it was awkward to be solicited by a judge and ... I tried to put an end to it," testified Globe and Mail columnist John Barber, who received emails from Matlow in 2002 and again in 2005.

Just days after the 2005 correspondence landed in Barber's inbox, Matlow began hearing a case that pitted a citizens' group against the city over plans for a streetcar right-of-way along St. Clair Ave. W.

Barber was the first witness called by lawyer Doug Hunt, independent counsel to the inquiry, convened to determine Matlow's fitness to remain on the bench.

It is one of just six such inquiries held since 1971.

The 67-year-old Ontario Superior Court judge is alleged to have engaged in misconduct incompatible with his judicial office, including political lobbying, and immersing himself in controversial issues he knew would likely land before his court.

Newfoundland Chief Justice Clyde Wells, who is heading the judicial council panel, told Matlow's lawyer, Paul Cavalluzzo, there's no "serious" question as to whether his client had the right to join his neighbours in opposition to the project on Thelma Ave. in Forest Hill.

But the nature of his conduct is an issue, Wells said.

In a column, Barber portrayed Matlow as a man on a relentless crusade, noting the judge also sent him a large pile of documents relating to the case.

Barber acknowledged yesterday he'd actually asked Matlow for documentation to back up what appeared to be baseless claims of impropriety by city officials.

"I only requested documents to get him off my back," he said.

The inquiry was sparked by a complaint from City of Toronto solicitor Anna Kinastowski, who contends Matlow should not have sat as part of a Divisional Court panel hearing the St. Clair streetcar case after levelling allegations against the city in the Forest Hill case.

Dressed in a grey suit and seated in a swivel chair beneath the dais, Matlow was also accused yesterday of using the "prestige" of his judicial office to further his crusade against the city over the Thelma Ave. development and gain support from politicians and the media.

According to an agreed statement of fact, Matlow emailed Michael Bryant, then Ontario's attorney general, in November 2003, seeking his help in blocking the Thelma Ave. project. He asked Bryant to ensure the city complied "with the rule of law."

Matlow also wrote to Mayor David Miller and all city council members about the development, on stationery headed "Justice Ted Matlow." He asked Miller to reverse "a violation of law."

Ron Lieberman, a retired lawyer who is Matlow's neighbour and was deeply involved in opposing the parking garage, told the inquiry yesterday that he was curious at one point about whether Matlow could be involved in the grassroots group, given his position as a judge.

Matlow showed him an advisory opinion he'd obtained, which seemed to suggest it was all within the boundaries of acceptable judicial conduct, Lieberman testified.

"Did you lose any respect for the judiciary because of the role he played in this neighbourhood fight with the City of Toronto?" Cavalluzzo asked.

"No, I actually became more favourably impressed," Lieberman said. "I thought what Ted did was very brave, very courageous, very hard and he was very devoted to it."

"Did you ever ask him whether he spoke with the chief justice or associate chief justice to see if this was okay?" asked Hunt.

"I think I asked him if he'd ever had criticism from anyone," Lieberman replied. "I think he said there had been one (person) a lady (judge)."

"Chief Justice (Heather) Smith?" asked Hunt.

"I think so, yes."

The hearing continues.