Sun News : Justice of the peace benched, accused of being 'arrogant', among other things
What a surprise -- another justice of the peace accused of behaving badly -- and this time the disturbing allegations include mistreatment of the mentally ill and a bias against Somali-Canadians and defendants who need interpreters in his court.
Toronto JP Robert E. Whittaker has been suspended from his duties pending a disciplinary hearing by the Justice of Peace Review Council (JPRC) over six complaints that include allegations he abused his power and was "impatient, sarcastic, impolite and arrogant" to those who came before him at the provincial offences court at 2700 Eglinton Ave. W.
"He does not treat people with the dignity they deserve," contends paralegal Vartan Manoukian, who launched one of the complaints more than a year ago. "He really doesn't have empathy for anyone."
There's a list of Whittaker's fellow JPs who have been summoned before the JPRC and reprimanded by their professional body for judicial misconduct: Oshawa, Ont., JP Errol Massiah was found guilty this week of sexual harassment for the second time in three years.
In the summer, Old City Hall JP Alfred "Budd" Johnston was given a seven-day suspension without pay for having a tantrum and throwing out an entire docket when a prosecutor was late.
A year earlier, his colleague, JP Tom Foulds, drew the same penalty for using his position to lean on two Toronto public health inspectors who had shuttered a friend's restaurant.
Often patronage appointments where no legal background is required, the JP is the only face of justice many ever see. Is it asking too much that they at least be law-abiding and courteous to the public they serve?
Appointed in 1998, Whittaker is accused of using his court as his personal fiefdom where it didn't appear to take much to make the green-sashed JP angry and annoyed. Among the allegations of his "pattern of inappropriate conduct":
On Oct. 30, 2013, Whittaker's comments appeared to "reflect pre-conceived notions about Somali persons and bias against the accused, who was Somali, and others with that background."
On Jan. 22, 2014, he's accused of making comments that "reflected a lack of sensitivity and objectivity towards the issues facing the accused, a person with mental illness."
The JPRC alleges Whittaker abused his power to punish people when he wasn't happy with them -- even if it was "inconsistent with the framework of the law."
On Sept. 11, 2013, the JP added a $50 fee to each defendant for an interpreter even though he had no legal authority to do so. According to the notice of hearing, he added the illegal surcharge because he was annoyed the two had requested an interpreter and then failed to show up.
On another occasion, the JP was miffed when an expectant father was late for court because he'd been at the doctor with his pregnant girlfriend.
The prosecutor wanted to withdraw the charge anyway, but Whittaker is accused of arbitrarily setting a new date that made the man return from out of town just to have the case dismissed.
"Your conduct and comments gave rise to a perception that you acted in a manner that appeared to be arbitrary and punitive and showed a wilful disregard for basic legal principles," the notice of hearing says.
Whittaker is also accused of being rude and dismissive towards defendants, often interrupting them and not listening to their defence, leaving them feeling embarrassed and humiliated.
In the case of one woman, he's alleged to have spoken to her in a "harsh, insulting and lecturing tone" and then raised his voice to yell at her.
The paralegal has seen Whittaker in action for years and believes it is time he was benched.
"If you don't like your work, why stay there and bring the administration of justice into disrepute?" asked Manoukian.
Whittaker could not be reached and his lawyer did not return a call for comment. Hearing dates are scheduled to be set in March.
In the meantime, a spokesman with the Ontario Court of Justice said Whittaker "is not being assigned work" while the JPRC complaints process is ongoing. He will, however, be drawing his $122,000-plus salary, of course.