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A long, hard road

Nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. It could be a momentary lapse of judgment. It could be leading with your heart instead of your brain. It could be trusting someone who perhaps you shouldn’t have. It could be that you were tired. Or it could simply be that something had to be done, and this is what got done. These types of mistakes are and should be forgivable — because no one is perfect.

Sadly in this day and age, there is the Internet. The Internet is unforgiving and it’s ease of spreading information, which can be highly valuable, also makes it just as easy to spread hysteria, overreaction, and often pain that hits far beyond the small mistake in judgment that may have spawned that social media tempest. Often that one small slip becomes the only focus and other good works, valuable contributions, or accomplishments are completely eclipsed.

And even if you are aware that something beyond your control has happened, efforts to mitigate often fail or make things worse. In other words, trying to fix things will usually just backfire. That’s a lesson any number of people who’ve posted off-the-cuff comments on Twitter or had a video of youthful miscalculation end up on YouTube have learned the hard way. The court of public opinion is harsh, driven by a mob mentality, which frequently revictimizes victims.

Such shouldn’t be the case in the legal profession, in the courts, or in the halls of professional regulators. But it can be. Lawyers will fight the good fight for their clients but within the profession are often quick to judge and can be unforgiving. It’s not true of every lawyer but as a chronicler of the profession, I’ve seen many times the harsh road to redemption that lawyers who’ve gone off the rails face. Fairness and balance can end up out the window. That’s human nature though and on some level, one should expect it.

But that shouldn’t be the case in courts of law or quasi-judicial/administrative law bodies. Yet it does happen and the consequences can be devastating to the individual, even if at the end of the day they come out on top. Perhaps the most obvious example in recent memory is that of the Canadian Judicial Council’s discipline proceedings against now-retired Manitoba associate chief justice Lori Douglas.

Douglas ended up in the unwanted spotlight, with her private life laid out for all and sundry to see, after her former and now-deceased husband took nude pictures of her and posted them on the Internet without her knowledge. The story became more sordid as it became clear he’d also been trying to set up sexual encounters, unbeknownst to her and well before she became a judge. It all blew up when the client went to the media with his complaints about Douglas’ husband. For Douglas, the worst was yet to come as she then found herself under investigation by the judicial council, a prolonged and fractious process that left both the CJC and Douglas herself scarred. The investigation went on for four years and cost approximately $3 million.

In November 2014, the CJC stayed its investigation into her conduct when Douglas agreed to retire effective May 2015. Part of that settlement included a gag order on Douglas about the proceedings. But what has happened since? In a wide-ranging and emotional interview with Canadian Lawyer, Douglas speaks for the first time about the toll it has taken and how she is moving forward with her life. What a long, hard, road it is.