Ontario judge apologizes to police, Crown

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

In an 11th-hour bid to save his 24-year career on the bench, Mr. Justice Paul Cosgrove of the Ontario Superior Court apologized yesterday for damaging the reputations of law-enforcement officials when he tossed out a 1999 murder charge against an Ottawa woman, Julia Elliott.

However, a lawyer for Judge Cosgrove, Chris Paliare, denied that his client was a rogue judge who harboured a deep-seated vendetta toward the Crown.

"No one - including Judge Cosgrove - would ever hold up the Elliott case as a model judicial proceeding," Mr. Paliare conceded at the commencement of a rare Canadian Judicial Council inquiry into whether Judge Cosgrove ought to be removed from the bench.

Mr. Paliare said that his client has come to recognize that his accusations were unpleasant for the many Crown and police officials he skewered and that Judge Cosgrove "expresses his sincere regret for that."

However, Judge Cosgrove continues to hold an "unflinching view" that his decisions were founded in good faith and were reasonable at the time, Mr. Paliare added.

A 73-year-old former federal cabinet minister, Judge Cosgrove is only the eighth judge to have a complaint proceed to a formal, public inquiry. The CJC panel could potentially recommend that the full judicial council ask federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to end Judge Cosgrove's career - just two years short of his retirement date.

The complaint against him was lodged in 2004 by Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney-General. It alleged that, by accusing prosecutors and police of committing 150 breaches of the Charter of Rights, Judge Cosgrove had continued a long pattern of unfair behaviour toward the Crown.

The complaint took issue with numerous allegations of deception and collusion made by Judge Cosgrove. It said that he had gravely damaged public confidence in the Crown. The complaint also said that Judge Cosgrove had created havoc in the prosecution ranks by repeatedly prohibiting officials from communication with one another about the sprawling Elliott case.

However, Mr. Paliare described the trial yesterday as a spectacular, one-of-a kind proceeding in which Judge Cosgrove - " a judicial workhorse" - had found himself faced with prosecutors and defence who were locked into "a long, bitterly contested proceeding that featured many bizarre twists and turns.

"Judge Cosgrove would be the first to say that nothing that he has experienced in his lengthy, judicial career - before or since - prepared him, or could have prepared him, adequately for what he faced in the Elliott case," Mr. Paliare said.

At the same time, he added, Judge Cosgrove had good reason to maintain a healthy suspicion of the police and Crown. He said that it had recently emerged that a senior police officer in the Elliott investigation had "essentially confessed" to counselling junior officers to conceal evidence and obstruct justice in another murder case.

Moving quickly to the attack yesterday, Mr. Paliare denounced the use of some evidence at the hearing as irrelevant and unfair. "If the rules of evidence don't apply, why don't you tell me right now what rules do apply?"

Mr. Paliare also noted that, unlike most other complaints against judges - which involve allegations of sexist comments, intoxication or conflict of interest - the Cosgrove complaint goes to the heart of a judge's sacrosanct right to decide cases without fear or favour.