Apr 16, 2009 04:30 AM
They can grant bail to people charged with violent crimes, approve police search warrants for private dwellings and, while presiding over traffic court, can impose fines and short jail terms.
But given all that power, a justice of the peace needs no formal legal training for a job that can pay well over $150,000 annually.
And if that is not enough money, with written permission, a justice of the peace can moonlight, which is what Vernon Albert Chang Alloy, who made $178,000 in 2008, does as a real estate agent in Brampton.
Chang Alloy has also been in the news recently after being accused of making "unwanted physical contact with a another Justice of the Peace by inappropriately touching her in a sexual manner" on two occasions in 2006. He faces a hearing May 11 and could lose his job.
Meanwhile, Justice of the Peace Jorge Barroilhet, who made $155,079 in 2008, is alleged to have had "an inappropriate interest in, contact with, and involvement with paralegal services," reads a summary of the allegations. A public hearing into the matter resumes in June.
The government refuses to say how many moonlighting JPs there are but promises to disclose that information when the Justices of the Peace Review Council (JPRC) tables its first annual report in the Legislature sometime this year.
The reporting mechanism was part of the province's attempt in 2006 to address longstanding criticisms about the JP system, which included beefing up qualifications while making it more transparent and ridding it of patronage appointments.
An informal survey of sources in the justice community, however, suggests problems persist at a time when these positions are more lucrative – and sought after – than ever.
More than 200 of Ontario's 350 JPs earned more than $150,000 in 2008 while 300 of them made more than $100,000. Following a court decision last year, a Justice of the Peace can wear his or her green-sashed robe until the age of 75.
"Patronage is alive and well," said a senior public sector lawyer familiar with the application process.
Just last month, the McGuinty government appointed a former aide to Liberal Premier David Peterson as a Justice of the Peace.
Currently, an appointments advisory committee interviews and vets candidates but the final decision lies with the attorney general.
Defence lawyer Peter Zaduk said there still needs to be a more thorough and open vetting process.
"If you've got qualified people who interpret the law properly to determine if someone ends up in jail, that's one thing, but if you've got unqualified people who are filling the jails up beyond their capacity ... that's another."
Zaduk said in his experience more than half of bail reviews in Superior Court are successful because of legal errors made by justices of the peace. "It does seem there are a large number of people improperly detained at their first bail hearing."
On the flip side, there are criticisms justices of the peace release people accused of serious crimes without proper legal reasons.
Chang Alloy was singled out by a Superior Court judge in a ruling last year. Justice Bonnie Wein criticized Chang Alloy for releasing an accused on bail for reasons she deemed "largely incoherent" and "illogical." She rescinded the bail.
Much of the decision-making relating to bail hearings, handled almost exclusively by JPs, is shielded by publication bans.
Government officials yesterday refused to confirm the curriculum vita of Chang Alloy, who was appointed in 1990.
"I am not able to provide any personal details with respect to Justices of the Peace," said Tara Dier, executive legal officer with the Ontario Court.
This, despite the normal practice for at least the past seven years by the attorney general, to release a paragraph of biographical information when announcing new appointees.
JPs are now required to attend seven intensive week-long workshops within the first few months following their appointment.
They're also required to have had a full-time job or charity involvement for 10 years, as well as a university degree or college diploma.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Mad Corrupt Political Correctness
Its amazing how JP's make politically correct decisions, "legal decisions". They rely in almost blind faith upon prosecutors and police to make decisions that have far reaching consequences. Not that makes much difference. Ontario Judges habitually make political decisions rather than legal decisions, especially on gender issues which drives family and criminal law. Some judges are known by the local and extended legal community as blatant and notoriously corrupt but, due to a a totally ineffective Judicial council whose mandate is to sanitize complaints. See the research by Peter Roscoe at the Ottawa Mens Centre cite.