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Ontario judge reprimanded for freeing criminal defendants in a fit of anger

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An Ontario judge who set 10 criminal defendants free during a fit of pique was officially reprimanded Monday by the Ontario Judicial Council.

The council said it had decided to go relatively lightly on Judge Howard Chisvin of the Ontario Court because he quickly recognized the gravity of his error and had done everything he could to make amends for it.

"Justice Chisvin is formally reprimanded and warned that any repetition would have serious consequences for the administration of justice and for him as a judge," said Mr. Justice Robert Sharpe, chair of a four-person council disciplinary panel.

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Earlier in the day, Judge Chisvin – a judge since 2004 – admitted that he committed an act of clear misconduct.

He appealed for mercy, saying his moment of grave misjudgment was stress induced and would never be repeated.

"I very much regret my actions that day," Judge Chisvin said. "Not only has that moment had a profound effect on my professional life, but on my personal life as well," he said.

The council had the power to impose everything from a reprimand to a recommendation for his removal from the bench.

On July 21, 2011, Judge Chisvin became angry when a Crown prosecutor failed to return to a courtroom in Newmarket, Ont., after a scheduled recess.

Judge Chisvin ordered that the prosecutor be paged and warned that charges against the remaining defendants on the docket would be dropped if he didn't reappeared within a minute.

When the prosecutor returned several minutes later, he explained that he had been scanning a psychiatric report he had just received pertaining to one of the accused.

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However, it was too late. Judge Chisvin had freed the accused.

"You were paged and paged and paged," he said. "Court is called, when court is called."

The council received complaints from the Ministry of the Attorney-General, a lawyer and two members of the public.

Brian Greenspan, a lawyer representing Judge Chisvin, told the council that the judge reported the matter to his regional chief judge before the day was out and expressed regret at his lapse of judgment.

Judge Chisvin immediately left on a two-week stress leave and has since begun to put together a course for judges that dwells on judicial stress, Mr. Greenspan said.

"This was not simply a good judge who had a bad day," Mr. Greenspan said. "This really was an exceptional judge who admits he had a very bad day."

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In its decision, the council members said that Judge Chisvin, who was presiding over a courtroom reserved for guilty pleas, had robbed both the defendants and their victims of a quick resolution.

However, it said that the public black eye Judge Chisvin's actions gave the court was mitigated by his obvious remorse and the fact that 45 members of the judiciary and the legal profession wrote letters attesting to his dedication to justice.

Judge Chisvin was consistently described in the letters as a hard-working judge who always has time for colleagues who need advice or encouragement.

A lawyer presenting the case for the judicial council, Marie Henein, said that even a judge can have an "intemperate" moment amid the stress of a day in court.

However, she said that there was considerable publicity about the incident and it had undoubtedly reflected badly on the entire court.

Ms. Henein said that the attorney-general's ministry was forced to go to considerable trouble and expense to get the criminal charges reinstated and resolved.

"Members of the public in Ontario would be extremely shocked that this sort of behaviour could happen in the Ontario Court of Justice," Ms. Henein said.

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About the Author
Justice reporter

Born in Montreal, Aug. 3, 1954. BA (Journalism) Ryerson, 1979. Previously covered environment beat, Queen's Park. Toronto courts bureau from 1981-85. Justice beat from 1985 - present. More

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