Sandra Chace and her husband Robert Loisel had just finished their divorce hearing and were awaiting the Judge’s decision, when Sandra received a request from the Judge to become a Facebook friend.
Ms. Chace immediately contacted her lawyer who recommended she not accept the request, so she ignored it.
Shortly thereafter the Judge handed down her Reasons. To Ms. Chace’s dismay the decision was highly favourable to her husband. Notably, the Judge left her responsible for the majority of the family debt and granted her spouse extremely generous alimony.
After learning this Judge had previously contacted litigants through social media and had been compelled to recuse herself, Ms. Chace’s lawyer brought a motion before her alleging a reasonable apprehension of bias based on her internet overture to his client and his client’s rejection of it.
The protocol for applications alleging bias is to go back to the Judge who made the order and have him or her review the situation.
Several years ago I brought a similar application before a judge in the British Columbia Supreme Court on the basis that his remarks during the hearing could lead a reasonable person to believe he was biased against my client.
At the time I thoroughly researched the law on bias and was not surprised to see that in 99.9% of cases, the judge determined there was no bias. That’s the finding this Judge made as well.
Ms. Chace then appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal who disagreed with the Facebook friendly trial judge. The Appeal Court found that Ms. Chace was caught “between the proverbial rock and a hard place”. She was trapped in a difficult position: Should she respond to the Judge’s ex parte communication or ignore it and risk offending the judge?
The Appeal Judges quashed the order of the trial judge and remitted the matter back to the trial court. Ms. Chace can only hope she does better the second time around.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang