Hamilton Judge faces public hearing over Trump campaign hat

A two-day disciplinary hearing begins Wednesday for a Hamilton judge who wore a “Make America Great Again” hat into his courtroom the day after Donald Trump was elected president.  Ontario Court Justice Bernd Zabel will face a four-person panel that will hear evidence about complaints related to his conduct after Zabel made comments in court about the U.S. presidential election, his views and those of his judicial colleagues.

The hearing notice will also look into allegations that Zabel’s public statement about his conduct six days later “was not consistent with comments he made in court on November 9, 2016.”

More than 81 complaints were made to the Ontario Judicial Council about Zabel’s behaviour.

The public hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the 27th floor of St. Andrew’s Club and Conference Centre on King Street West in Toronto.

The panel will be made up of a judge from the Ontario Court of Appeal, an Ontario Court of Justice judge, a lawyer and a community member.

If the panel upholds a complaint of judicial misconduct, Zabel could face sanctions ranging from a warning to a reprimand to a suspension or even removal from office.

Zabel reportedly wore the red “Make America Great Again” hat in court on Nov. 9 following Trump’s election.

Six days later, he apologized, saying the gesture was not meant to be political and was a “misguided” attempt at humour.

But weeks later, a transcript of Zabel’s comments in court on Nov. 9 obtained by the Toronto Star raised questions about his apology.

“Brief appearance with the hat. Pissed off the rest of the judges because they all voted for Hillary, so, I was the only Trump supporter up there but that’s OK,” Zabel said according to the transcript.

Some of the complaints raised about Zabel questioned his ability to be impartial and whether people appearing before him would be treated fairly.

“His Honour’s conduct negatively impacted the confidence of members of the public in his ability to carry out his judicial duties fairly, impartially and without bias or prejudice, according to a summary of the complaints.

Zabel was appointed to the bench in 1990. He has not been hearing cases since Dec. 21.

By Steve Buist

Source: thespec.com

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