A judge with a history of releasing reasons for judgment years late was reprimanded by Ontario’s top court Thursday for “frustrat(ing) the proper administration of justice.” This time, it resulted in the court ordering a new trial for a case involving serious allegations of domestic and sexual violence. After a nine-day trial that ended in March 2016, Superior Court Justice Susanne Goodman acquitted the accused of all charges. Goodman briefly gave her decision on a Friday and promised detailed written reasons to come on Monday. They never came.
On Thursday, more than a year later, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, and, in a postscript to the ruling, gave a stern warning to Goodman.
“Our order directing a new trial is a terrible result for everyone involved in this proceeding,” Court of Appeal Justice David Doherty wrote for the three-judge panel.
“The trial judge’s failure to give reasons, despite her repeated promises to do so, has frustrated the proper administration of justice. Nor is this the first time that this trial judge’s failure to provide reasons has required this court to order a new trial. It must be the last time.”
In another case from 2011, the Star reported Goodman took 29 months to deliver a crucial decision on legal costs in a child support case. The decision was released the day after the Star’s story ran.
And just five months ago, a different panel of Court of Appeal judges decided to go ahead with a hearing after Goodman’s promised written reasons failed to materialize after six months.
“It was not in the interests of justice to delay the hearing of the appeal any longer,” Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Kathryn Feldman wrote.
A request for comment from Goodman, who has been a judge since 2000, was made through her judicial secretary and no response was received by this newspaper’s deadline.
The Office of the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice said it would not be appropriate to comment “as this matter is now before the Canadian Judicial Council.”
The Canadian Judicial Council is the regulatory body that oversees federally-appointed judges and reviews complaints.
The Court of Appeal decision released Thursday involves a case where the complainant alleges she was punched, beaten with a mop handle, attacked with a knife and raped by Stanislaw Sliwka. The abuse allegedly took place in 2013 and 2014. She called 911 on March 1, 2014 and answered the door wearing sunglasses and a hood on her head, according to police testimony. A police officer convinced her to take off the sunglasses and said he was horrified by what he saw. She had extensive injuries, including bruising, cuts, swelling and bleeding, and needed immediate medical assistance, the officer said. The police officers testified Sliwka told the complainant to be quiet and that it was only when she was alone in the elevator with them that she said Sliwka had beaten her.
Sliwka, denied ever assaulting the complainant. He said she sometimes hurt herself when she was drunk. He said that two days before the 911 call he came home and found his place ransacked. He believed intruders had broken in and assaulted the complainant.
After the trial, Goodman said she was left with reasonable doubt and acquitted Sliwka on all charges.
Sliwka’s appeal lawyer argued her reasons are clear based on the trial record, but the Court of Appeal disagreed.
“Counsel’s submissions go only so far as to demonstrate the need for careful reasons in this case. Unfortunately, the trial judge gave none,” Doherty wrote.”
The Crown filed an appeal and repeatedly asked for the written reasons between April and September 2016, Doherty wrote. Each promised date was missed. By the end of September, the Crown informed Goodman that they would argue the appeal should proceed as if no further reasons existed.
The frustration from the Court of Appeal is clear in the decision, says Michael Lacy, the vice-president of the Criminal Lawyer’s Association. He was not involved in the case.
“What I read from the postscript is, this could all have been avoided through the provision of reasons,” he said.
Judges are required to do two things, he said: decide cases fairly and impartially, and explain the reasons for their decision.
“Here there was obviously a really significant failing with respect to one of the two things we expect from judges,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate.”
Defence lawyer Reid Rusonik, who represented one of two men acquitted by Goodman, but ordered to have a new trial in 2011 after her ruling was released two years later, noted that the quality of Goodman’s written decisions are “excellent.”
By ALYSHAH HASHAM