Rebuke of Vancouver Judge Groves is a Disgrace

Mr. Justice Joel Groves is a respected and well-liked member of Vancouver’s British Columbia Supreme Court. He is unceasingly polite (and some judges are not), but more importantly he writes well-reasoned and timely judgments, even though they have not all been supportive of my clients’ positions.

In the area of family law, he is considered by many in the bar to be a highly favourable draw, since he understands the difficulties litigants encounter in this emotional minefield. It is not surprising, however, since as a lawyer he practiced family law.

Yesterday’s criticism of Justice Groves by the Court of Appeal came as a shock to many of us who practice in the courts. His offence was characterized as “plagiarism” by two learned Appeal Court Justices. What he did was what judges have done from time immemorial. He used extensive excerpts from the written closing argument provided to him by counsel.

As young lawyers, we are taught (even by judges) to prepare written argument in such a way that judges will adopt our written submissions in their Reasons for Judgement. This is considered the goal of effective written advocacy.

To harshly condemn a fine judge for doing what judges often do, is a disgrace. The Appeal Judges suggest Justice Groves ought to have footnoted the excerpts indicating they were taken from counsel’s written submissions.

I have never seen a Judge attribute paragraphs of his judgment to the lawyers that appeared before him.

The Appeal Court leaned heavily on the fact that a large part of Justice Groves’ Reasons came from counsel’s written argument. It appears if judges “crib” a few portions, that’s alright, but Judge Groves apparently crossed some line, only known to the Court of Appeal.

Thankfully, one of the three Appeal Justices refused to impugn Judge Groves’ integrity and recognized that to do so on these facts would call into disrepute our very administration of justice.

Of course, no judge will speak out to defend Justice Groves, so lawyers must.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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11 thoughts on “Rebuke of Vancouver Judge Groves is a Disgrace

  1. Thank Goodness someone is. Lord knows there are precious few justices in our legal administration system with strong Christian moral integrity. The reason I say “Christian” moral values is because our legal system, just like our country, due to secular liberalism rampant in our education, political and social organizations, is over-running our courts like a tsunami. We need people with a strong integrity based on Christian principals to stand in the gap.

  2. Tom Thanks for weighing in on this. Judge Groves is facing an onslaught of negative press, CKNW even suggested that he should be subjected to a conduct review by Canada’s Judicial Council.

    The problem is that the average citizen has no idea how it all works.

    Thanks again.

    • Well said, Georgialee. Our goal as advocates is to convince the Judge to agree with our submissions and find in favour of our client. When we take a reasonable stance on behalf of our client throughout the litigation and back it up with well-written, well-presented argument, summarizing all important facts and relevant case law, the Judge is SUPPOSED to adopt our submissions and find in our client’s favour– this is the very goal! We are rightfully taught to “make the Judge’s job as easy as possible” by providing, among other things, excellent pursuasive written argument. Are we supposed to submit something the Judge will not adopt?

      • Lisa Thank you for your comments on Judge Grove’s situation. I have not spoken to one lawyer that disagrees with the position you and I take on this.

        Let’s hope that Judge Groves survives the fall-out!

        Best regards, Georgialee

  3. I’ve worked with Joel Groves as a clerk in both Supreme Court Trials and in Master’s Chambers as he then was. I remember when he was appointed and was one of the first clerks to have sat with him on family, civil matters and chambers.

    I can say that I really enjoyed those experiences and appreciated that despite his personable and charismatic nature, he maintained a level of respect for our courts that Southin, J would’ve appreciated! It was an immense pleasure to have worked with him and as far as I see it…

    Plagiarism. Precedent. No latter without the former.

    If it is indeed the case that Judge Groves relied directly on statements made in written argument then it’s highly complementary of counsel that presented it.

    Call me oldschool but was the decision right or wrong or are we going to beat him because he wrote it in the wrong colour pen?

  4. Well done Georgialee for telling it like it is. Like you, I have been a trial counsel for many years. The whole point of drafting written submissions is to pursuade the judge to our client’s point of view. If the judge accepts our arguements and reproduces them in reasons the job is well done. I have had many cases, both at trial and in the court of appeal, where portions of counsel’s written submissions have been reproduced in the reasons of the court without attribution. In my view, it is grossly unfair to suggest that a judge has not done his job of considering the issues just because he accepts the arguements of one counsel and not the other. One counsel obviously did a very fine job in the case before judge Groves. Although in my experience it is unusual for such a large portion of counsels written submissions to reappear in reasons, if it’s acceptable for a few paragraphs, why not more? Where is the line to be drawn? In 30 years of practice I have never seen any indication that such a line even exists. As you say, we are taught to draft submissions that the trial judge can adopt in his reasons. Why then should a trial judge be harshly criticized for doing so? Nothing I read in the trial judgment or the court of appeal reasons in judge Groves case suggests to me that judge Groves failed to consider the issues and bring his judgment to bear in determing them.

  5. I agree with your comments on Justice Groves. I have appeared before him on a number of occasions, both when he was a Master (one of the best) and as a judge. Judicial choices are hit and miss. Justice Groves was and is a hit; a fine example of the kind of earnest and hard-working individuals we want on the bench. All of which having been said, the two members of the Court of Appeal who were uncomfortable with Judge Groves’ writing technique were entitled to their opinions. One can only hope the SCC weighs in on this issue. I suspect they will have a different view.

  6. I’ve watched Judge Groves in court probably for longer periods of time than most lawyers and I can say unreservedly that he is thoughtful, wise, and always considered a supremely fortunate draw. This decision by the Court of Appeal was, quite possibly, political, and therefore corrupt.

  7. I have to say I very much disagree with the comments above. I know of two other cases, one in which I was personally involved (on the winning side no less) and one I heard of from a colleague, in which Mr. Justice Groves did the same thing, that is, issued judgments that were 95% “cut and pasted” from the winning side’s written submissions. There was absolutely no thought or consideration involved in these judgments. Surely it is a judge’s job to look out for the dodgy spots in an argument, even if the other side has a weak lawyer who is unable to point them out, rather than blindly accepting the one side’s submissions based on superficial polish or delivery by a heavy hitter QC. Sure it is gratifying to win, but on these terms it leaves a bad taste.
    My suspicion is that these two cases, plus the one recently addressed by the Court of Appeal, are but a sampling of from Groves J.’s “cut and paste” oeuvre. It may be that Groves J. is competent enough in the area of family law, but hand him a complicated commercial case and he is unable to grapple with the issues. Words like “disgrace” and “travesty”, as applied to Groves J.’s “cut and pasting” practices, are not overblown, in my view.

  8. I have read this blog, and family law, i have to say is like kindergarten compared to complex law, such as medical malpractice. Just reading the factum of the appellant and the judgment of “Grover” shows the complexity will overwhelm a family lawyer, used to slips of the rules and the whitewash of judicial discretion that “best interest” gives a family judge. In family law, the Judge can make the facts! In medical law, he can’t. That’s what tripped up Judge Grover. He just was not intellectually up to it, it would seem, to a reasonable person. I don’t doubt his integrity, he is a nice man, it his competency that was at fault. He could not admit it, and rather than fail the “term paper” he had to use “plagiarism”. Or so it looks.

    So, I agree with Sarah. I sense that Mr. Justice Groves will not be a Justice for much longer. This case went to the Supreme Court (of Canada) – yup the big one – and Justice Moldaver pretty much trashed the trial judge. For the first time, the Chief Justice did not say anything much, maybe as she is on the Canadian Judicial Council too. What a mess. Poor Judge? I think not. Poor child, poor mother.

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