|Ottawa Justice Dianne Nicholas|
Ontario Court Justice Dianne Nicholas officially stepped down from the bench on Dec. 31. It was two weeks before she was scheduled to appear before the Ontario Judicial Council over remarks Nicholas said she inadvertently posted on the Facebook page of a local assistant Crown attorney in October 2012.
As a result of her retirement, the Ontario Judicial Council no longer has the jurisdiction to hold a hearing or discipline Nicholas.
“What I said was completely wrong,” Nicholas told the Citizen on Monday. “I regret it, I shouldn’t have said it, I apologized immediately.”
In the online post, Nicholas identified a fellow judge and regional senior justice by their initials and complained that one had given a woman a reduced sentence because she had a certain kind of cancer that “is hardly a killer . . . in fact the very same f’n cancer that (the sentencing judge) has herself… .!!!!”
Nicholas also lamented that between the two judges, the situation for sentences with driving offences “is getting ridiculous,” because their sentences were “far below the mark.” The contents of Nicholas’s post were part of an agreed statement of facts presented during a hearing in May 2014 into the judge’s conduct.
The Facebook post was seen by friends of the assistant Crown attorney, about 50 of whom were lawyers, and were “widely discussed” among defence lawyers, prosecutors, police and clerks at the courthouse.
Word of the remarks eventually reached the judges’ chambers and created what was described as a “toxic atmosphere,” according to Ontario Judicial Council documents. Two judges refused to work with Nicholas.
The Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa also expressed concerns about whether Nicholas could still be impartial in cases involving criminal driving offences.
Nicholas said Monday she regretted the post.
“I was horrified when I found out that I posted that. It was never meant to be public. It was at a time of great stress in my life. . . . I never intended to post it,” said Nicholas.
Nicholas, who has been off work since Oct. 22, 2012, said she went on long-term disability because of mental health issues.
She said she decided to retire on her doctor’s advice rather than face a lengthy and stressful disciplinary hearing.
Nicholas said the other judge was “absolutely right” to be upset about the cancer comment.
She said she doesn’t remember posting the comments, which she said were made during a difficult time in her life.
“Had I not been really exhausted and overworked and in a depression, I obviously wouldn’t have made those comments,” she said.
Nicholas — who had been a judge for 23 years — was facing anything from a warning or reprimand to suspension with or without pay, or removal from office, had the disciplinary hearing proceeded.
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Ottawa judge who made crude Facebook post retires rather than face disciplinary hearing