Pubdate: Sat, 17 Mar 2007
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2007, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Rod Mickleburgh
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


'The Language I Used Had No Place In The Courtroom,' He Tells Special Sitting

VANCOUVER -- A contrite B.C. Supreme Court judge made an 
extraordinary, emotional public apology yesterday for making a number 
of profanity-laced observations during a criminal trial this week.

In an admission believed to be without precedent in the annals of 
B.C. courts, if not those of the entire country, Mr. Justice Peter 
Leask called his behaviour inexcusable and vowed not to repeat it.

"The language I used had no place in the courtroom and I was wrong to 
use it as I did," he told a rare, specially convened sitting of the 
court, packed with lawyers, news media and members of the public.

With a trembling voice and a catch in his throat, Judge Leask, a 
veteran former defence lawyer appointed to the bench 18 months ago, 
said that he wished "to make an unreserved apology. . . . I deeply 
regret my actions."

One long-time Supreme Court judge said that he could not recall 
anything similar to Judge Leask's apology in such a setting. "There 
have been special sittings of the court before, but nothing like this."

Judge Leask aroused a storm of public controversy by twice using the 
f-word, plus an "oh shit" and a "goddamned," as he questioned 
prosecutor Ernie Froess during closing arguments in a drug-trafficking trial.

At one point, he observed that the accused, whom he eventually 
acquitted, would "have had to have been out of his fuckin' mind to 
store it in his own locker," referring to cocaine.

Later, musing about the thoughts of another individual already 
convicted in the case, Judge Leask said: " . . . he can minimize his 
risk of detection and apprehension by just aborting the whole fucking 
thing, right?"

Some young students were present in the courtroom during the judge's remarks.

In his apology, which he read out in a simple business suit, Judge 
Leask specifically included "any schoolchildren" who were in court at the time.

He also extended his regrets to other members of the public who were 
there, all lawyers in the province, court staff "and all members of 
this court, past and present, as well as the members of other courts 
of this province."

Among those present yesterday for the judge's apology was 10-year old 
Adam Veitch, brought to the court by his father. Afterwards, the 
youngster said that Judge Leask had done the right thing.

"I think it was, like, good that he apologized for what he said. You 
shouldn't swear, because there were a lot of kids there, and it can 
get back to you in a bad way," Adam said.

B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal welcomed Judge Leask's frank and 
unreserved apology. "It really tells us the kind of person he is. . . 
. He quite correctly realized that his language was not appropriate 
in the circumstances."

Both lawyers in the drug-trafficking case, however, said they had not 
been offended by the judge's language and did not feel it was 
necessary for him to apologize.

"Really, at the end of the day, I'm embarrassed," defence lawyer Neil 
Cobb said. "As someone who's spent 45 years defending the poor and 
the downtrodden, he didn't deserve this maelstrom. . . . I felt 
terrible hearing him say that he was sorry."

Asked whether it was appropriate for schoolchildren to hear such 
language in court, Mr. Cobb replied: "My son is 13 years old, and 
he's got more offensive language than that on half the songs on his iPod."

Mr. Froess said he had not been offended by Judge Leask's choice of 
words either, nor did he mind the judge's seemingly incessant 
interruptions of his closing argument.

"He told me the issues he was concerned about and it's my job to 
respond to those concerns," Mr. Froess said. "His apology was 
obviously heartfelt and very genuine, and I think that puts the 
matter to rest."

The special sitting of the court was convened by Chief Justice Donald 
Brenner at Judge Leask's request.

Judge Leask became particularly emotional as he expressed concerns 
that his conduct had damaged the reputation of the courts.

"It pains me greatly, and I am [especially] anxious that my 
colleagues recognize my contrition," he said.

Well-known defence lawyer Terry La Liberte, who attended the special 
session, said he was impressed by Judge Leask's apology, calling his 
profanities an aberration for someone with a previously impeccable reputation.

"Perhaps he was tired . . . but we are all human beings," Mr. La 
Liberte said. "We all make mistakes, and if you have the fortitude to 
stand up and apologize, I think the public accepts that."
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