Appointment of judges politically biased in Alberta, critics say, Process favours candidates with ties to the PC party

Appointment of judges politically biased in Alberta, critics say, Process favours candidates with ties to the PC party by Jennie Russell, July 25, 2013, CBC News
The process for appointing provincial court judges in Alberta should be reformed because it favours candidates with ties to the Progressive Conservative party, lawyers say. “You can find judicial appointments of people who aren’t specially qualified, and not more so than anyone else, who obviously received an appointment because of their political connections,” Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association president D’Arcy DePoe said, adding that the skewed process “does breed cynicism.”

‘What is at risk is simply this: you’re not always going to get the best person’
—Allan Wachowich, former chief justice

Alberta lawyers and judges who wish to preside over the provincial court must first submit their applications to the Alberta Judicial Council. The six-member panel consists of the Chief Justice of Alberta, the Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Alberta, the president of the Law Society of Alberta, and two people appointed by the minister of justice [including: Vinod (Vini) Chari, Drill bit sales representative at United Diamond Ltd., a subsidiary of Ulterra Drilling Technologies]. The council interviews the applicants, then forwards a list of recommended individuals to a second panel, the Provincial Court Nominating Committee. It is before this committee, Depoe said, that applicants’ political affiliations can —and have — overshadowed their credentials. “The list that [the committee members] submit to the minister, of qualified people, inevitably is going to be influenced by the political leanings of the people on the committee,” he said.

Justice Minister Jonathan Denis was not available for comment, but his press secretary, Josh Stewart, said provincial court judges are chosen based on merit. “Being a part of a political party in Alberta is not a crime,” he added, “and should not rule anyone out from public service nor affect the selection process.” But a CBC News investigation found that some recent judicial appointments and the nominating committee itself had close political ties to the provincial Conservative party. Two of the last three new judges selected for the provincial court have direct links to the Tories.

The Provincial Court Nominating Committee is chaired by Calgary lawyer Michael Niven, a frequent donor to the provincial Conservative party. He was also Premier Alison Redford’s official agent during her last election campaign, and is a member of Redford’s Calgary-Elbow riding association. Calgary lawyer Michael Niven chairs the Provincial Court Nominating Committee. Another nominating committee member, Robert Dunseith, was president of the provincial Conservative party from 1999 to 2002, as well as the official agent for PC MLA Steve Young during his campaign. Dunseith currently serves as the “director at large” of the Edmonton-Riverview PC riding association. Three of the committee’s 11 members are appointed by virtue of their positions: the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, the president of the Law Society of Alberta, and the president of the Canadian Bar Association’s Alberta branch. The eight remaining individuals, which include Niven and Dunseith, are hand-picked by the justice minister, the same person to whom the committee makes its final recommendations. … Former chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench Allan Wachowich says the Provincial Court Nominating Committee is unnecessary. “If they are going to have a committee that recommends judicial appointments, then the committee should have some independence,” he said. “It should be independent of the political process, and it should be drawn from a wide spectrum of the community. “And there are plenty of qualified, responsible people out there who they could select, who are not Tory riding association presidents.” The two appointed members of the Alberta Judicial Council, Joan Hertz and Sandra Durrant, also have connections to the governing party. Hertz was president of the Edmonton-McClung PC riding association, and secretary for the provincial Conservative party. Durrant is married to Hunter Wight, the executive director of Redford’s Calgary office.

“What is at risk is simply this: you’re not always going to get the best person in the position to serve on a provincial court,” said Allan Wachowich, former chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench. … “I have asked people to apply in certain cases because you can see that the person had the qualifications, had the experience and everything else,” he said. “And they say, ‘Why should I apply, and then be insulted by being rejected because of no political connections?’ And they were very blunt about this.” … Specifically, members of the legal community were troubled by the fact that the majority of members on the Provincial Court Nominating Committee are appointed by the justice minister. … Wachowich says he believes the Provincial Court Nominating Committee is not only unnecessary, but a political barrier for otherwise qualified candidates who do not support the Conservative party. “Their chances became minimal after the second committee was appointed,” he said. But Wachowich says a culture of patronage prevents many lawyers and judges from speaking out on the issue. “You don’t dare stand up and yell too loudly about these things because you might be deprived of some other things that you may wish that come from the minister of justice,” he said. DePoe says the government has created a skewed appointment structure — and is ultimately responsible for changing it. “Unfortunately, the correction is going to have to come from the government itself — to realize that the process needs to be opened up and they need to draw on a broader spectrum of the community, both in the nominating committee and in the actual appointments,” he said. “Or it might happen with a change of government.” [Emphasis added]

Who picks Alberta’s provincial court judges? by CBC News, July 25, 2013
Some in the Alberta legal community say the process for appointing court judges favours those with ties to the Conservative party. Click the images below to learn more about the judicial committee members who make the decisions — including the amount each has donated to political organizations since 2004.

2013 07 26 Screen Capture Neil Wittmann Chief Justice Alberta Court Queen's Bench

[Refer also to:

An Open Letter to the Honourable Neil Wittmann, Chief Justice

Hydraulic Fracturing [“Fracking”] Worldwide, Answers Not Forthcoming, Questions Not Allowed. You drank your water, don’t frack mine

La fracturation hydraulique, le Canada et la justice, Alberta Fracking. Jessica Ernst Versus The Corporate/Government Enemy. (A Case For History.)

Fracking. The One Per Cent. Collapsing Canadian Courts. Jessica Ernst of Rosebud, Alberta

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In Alberta And B.C.: Stephen Harper Destroying The Rule Of Law

Fracking: Feds Throw Wrench in High Profile Lawsuit, Judge suddenly promoted; plaintiff Ernst sees strategy to ‘delay and exhaust.’

ALBERTA JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS ANNOUNCED by the Harper Government: Justice Barbara L. Veldhuis appointed judge of the Court of Appeal of Alberta

How Alberta Will Fight Fracking Folk Hero Jessica Ernst, In famous flaming water case, regulator to argue ‘no duty of care’ to landowners or groundwater

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ALBERTA JUDICIAL APPOINTMENT ANNOUNCED by the Harper Government: The Honourable Barbara L. Veldhuis Appointed Judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta in Calgary

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The Lawsuit

It has been more than 3 Months since Encana promised Chief Justice Neil Wittman (during an April 15, 2013 case management call) that the company’s Statement of Defence would be filed “right away.” In June, Encana’s excuse was “a few of their key people are on vacation.”

As of July 26, 2013, still no filing by Encana. It’s been more than 6 months since the January 18, 2013 hearing where Encana argued nothing in court, still no judgment.]

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