Manitoba Bar Association exposed

- October 20th, 2012

Manitoba Bar Association president Karen Wittman may want to take a few courses in comprehensive reading before her next attempt at constructive criticism of a newspaper column.
I welcome hard-hitting debate on issues I cover in my column. In fact, I encourage it.
But I also expect that those engaging in the debate are making arguments based on the facts before them and are not fabricating information to suit their agendas.
I write extensively about the decisions of judges in criminal justice cases and frequently hand out my Eight-Ball Award to those whose decisions bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
Judges, lawyers, politicians and others are free to agree or disagree with my assessments. What they’re not free to do, though, is determine their own facts.

We have a right to our own opinions, but we don’t have a right to our own facts.
And unfortunately, Ms. Wittman tried to alter the facts to suit her own political agenda in a recent letter she sent to my boss Stephen Ripley this week which I have included in this blog for the public to read.

Karen Wittman Picture Colour Jul 2012
Karen Wittman

Let’s have a closer look at that letter.
We’ll start with the following line from Wittman, which makes reference to my commentary about the Taman Inquiry and the lax sentence handed out to former WPS cop Derek Harvey-Zenk:

“ In his articles, Mr. Brodbeck refers to Judge Wyant as the judge who “won” his first “Eight Ball” award for the decision in that case.”

That is correct. I did refer to Wyant as the judge who won his first Eight-Ball in that case. And he deserved that award.

Wittman continues:

“(Brodbeck) goes on to state, twice, that the decision made by Judge Wyant “brought the administration of justice into disrepute, a Commission of Inquiry later ruled”.

Nope. Never said that.
What I have written repeatedly is that I disagree with the joint-sentencing recommendation by Wolsen and Minuk in the Harvey-Zenk case and that I also vehemently opposed Wyant’s decision to accept that joint-recommendation.

We know that judges do not have to accept joint-sentencing recommendations if they believe a sentence is unfit.

So, if Wyant believed house arrest for the killer cop was unfit, he could have overturned it. He didn’t. And that’s why he got an Eight-Ball Award.

He got the award for accepting the plea-bargain, a plea bargain which Commissioner Roger Salhany said brought the administration of justice into disrepute.

Wyant had an opportunity to reject that sentence, but he didn’t.

Salhany never said Wyant’s decision to accept the plea-bargain brought the administration of justice into disrepute.
And I never wrote that he did, despite Wittman’s erroneous claims. She is wrong on the facts.

This is what I actually wrote:

Sept 10, 2012

“(Wyant) won his first award after agreeing to a joint-sentencing recommendation of house arrest for former Winnipeg cop Derek Harvey- Zenk, who killed Crystal Taman in 2005 when he slammed his truck into her car. The sentence ‘brought the administration of justice into disrepute,’ a commission of inquiry later ruled.”

Right. Wyant won the award for accepting the plea-bargain, a sentence which Salhany concluded brought the administration of justice into disrepute. But nowhere did I write that Salhany said Wyant’s decision to accept the plea bargain brought the administration of justice into disrepute. There’s a big difference between the two.

Wittman’s letter and copies of my past columns on the Ray Wyant file are posted below.

Ripley Wpg Sun Ltr Oct 16 2012

September 10, 2012
Tom Brodbeck
Winnipeg Sun

I hope provincial court Judge Ray Wyant was serious when he said during the summer that the “gloves are coming off ” when it comes to how the courts deal with serious crimes.
Because he has another serious case before him involving one of the most heinous sexual assaults imaginable.
Wyant, in July, was referring to an impaired driving offence when he made the comment about the gloves coming off. He gave a first-time offender a 14-day jail term for impaired driving, raising the bar on how the courts mete out punishment for drunk drivers.

He said the incarceratory sentence “sends a message and a warning that the gloves are coming off when it comes to these kinds of cases.”
Good for him. But I’d like to see that new-found philosophy extended to other serious crimes to ensure his comments weren’t just a one-day, isolated thought.
You may have read Winnipeg Sun crime reporter James Turner’s story Friday about how the Crown is seeking an adult sentence for an 18-year-old who committed a brutal rape and robbery of a 27-year-old woman in 2011.
The rapist was under 18 at the time of his crimes, so he would normally fall under Canada’s mushy and misguided Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, his crimes were so heinous the Crown is seeking a double-digit sentence. But that can only succeed if the prosecutions branch can convince Wyant to sentence the repeat, danger-o us offender — who is also a gang member — as an adult. There are provisions in the YCJA for that to happen.
But it’s up to Mr. Gloves- Are-Off Wyant to agree.
Now, you should know Wyant doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to “taking the gloves off ” in the courtroom. He’s a two-time winner of this column’s Eight-Ball Award, handed out to highlight some of the worst perversions of justice in our court system.
He won his first award after agreeing to a joint-sentencing recommendation of house arrest for former Winnipeg cop Derek Harvey- Zenk, who killed Crystal Taman in 2005 when he slammed his truck into her car. The sentence “brought the administration of justice into disrepute,” a commission of inquiry later ruled.
Wyant won his second Eight-Ball when he agreed to another joint-sentencing recommendation to give a one-day jail sentence to two teens who beat Martyn Hendy to death in 2008.
But that’s not all.
Wyant also once blamed the news media for the public’s loss of confidence in the justice system. When he was the chief judge of the provincial court, he wrote in his 2004-06 annual report that the justice system has been “battered” and that the media was at fault for perpetuating “negative attitudes” toward the courts. Talk about passing the buck.
So you can see Wyant’s track record is not exactly stellar. Which is why my ears perked up like a ring-tailed lemur when I heard his “gloves-are-off ” comment. Because I’m an optimist at heart, I see that comment as hope.

The alternative to sentencing the chronic, dangerous rapist in question as an adult is to process him as a youth under the YCJA. If that happens, the longest he would spend behind bars is two years.
If that were to happen, I could think of few cases that would bring the administration of justice into disrepute as this one.
Please Judge Wyant, take your gloves off on this one. We need you to go bare-knuckle on this case to help restore the “battered” justice system you wrote about in your 2004-06 annual report. I have my next Eight- Ball Award ready to be presented, but I haven’t sent it to the trophy shop yet for inscription.
And if it’s all the same to you, I really don’t want you to be a triple-crown winner.

-30-

March 10, 2011
Tom Brodbeck
Winnipeg Sun

Provincial court Judge Ray Wyant complained a few years ago that it’s the media’s fault the public is losing confidence in the justice system.
The former chief judge wrote in his 2004-2006 annual report that the justice system had been “battered” and that it was the media’s fault for perpetuating “negative attitudes” towards the courts.
I argued then that the culpability lay not with the mess e ng e r but with the message itself — that the courts are handing down weak and pathetic sentences for serious, violent crimes.
That’s the real reason people are losing — or have already lost — confidence in the justice system.
Wyant’s ruling this week that the two teens who beat Martyn Hendy to death in 2008 should only spend one day in jail is a perfect example of that.

I guess Wyant didn’t heed my advice.
How could any member of the public possibly have confidence in a justice system that sentences two killers to a day in jail?
For that, Wyant is the latest winner of this column’s Eight-Ball Award, handed out to highlight some of the worst perversions of justice in our court system.
Wyant said he had no choice but to accept the joint s e nt e n c i ng recommendation from the Crown and the defence in this case.
Nonsense.
Judges overturn joint-sentencing recommendations all the time. That excuse has been exposed repeatedly and the public doesn’t buy it anymore.
Wyant is the same judge who gave former city cop Derek Harvey-Zenk — who killed Crystal Taman in 2005 when he slammed his truck into her car — a conditional sentence.
He argued he had no choice but to give Harvey-Zenk house arrest because it was jointly recommended by the Crown and defence.
Wyant won his first Eight-Ball Award for that decision, a sentence that “brought the administration of justice into disrepute,” a commission of inquiry later ruled.
Yes, there were problems with the evidence in the Hendy case. The Crown secured a plea bargain for a one-day sentence because witnesses couldn’t identify the two accused and because their stories conflicted with each other.
It puts the judge in a tough spot. We can’t ignore that. But it doesn’t absolve the court of its duty to ensure a fit sentence is served.
After all, this was man-slaughter. This was not a plea bargain for a theft over $5,000 case or an armed robbery. A man was killed here.
It’s an extraordinary case that cried out for justice. Unfortunately, justice was not served.
Normally, judges must accept joint sentencing recommendations unless they have good reason not to. Judges often do have good reasons to overturn joint-recommendations and they have done so many times.
I have documented many of them in this column over the years.
While the court has a responsibility to strongly consider a joint-recommendation, it also has the overarching duty to ensure sentences are proportionate to the gravity of the offence. Wyant failed to do that.
Ironically, the Crown in this case made reference to one of the worst perversions of justice I’ve seen, the killing that inspired the creation of the Eight-Ball Award in 2003.
That was the case of a 17-year-old who killed a man with a pool ball in a sock. Just like this week’s case, the killer received a sentence of one day in jail.
Judge Wyant said he hopes the killers in the Hendy case serve a “life sentence” in their own minds by carrying the guilt with them for the rest of their lives.
Sorry, your honour, that’s not justice. Not even close.
And cases like this are the real reason the public continues to lose confidence in our “battered” justice system.

-30-

May 26, 2009
Tom Brodbeck
Winnipeg Sun

Chief provincial court Judge Ray Wyant says public confidence in the justice system continues to decline.
And he wants judges to do a better job of educating people on how the justice system works through more public outreach.
The chief judge is confused.
Wyant made the statement in the closing remarks of his 2007-08 Provincial Court Annual Report.
“I have commented before on my concern with respect to the issue of public confidence in the justice system,” wrote Wyant. “I am concerned that public confidence continues to decline.”
The last time Wyant commented on the waning of public confidence in the justice system, he blamed the media.
He stopped doing that this time. Now he says it’s about better communication with the public.
“It is the responsibility of those that work in the judicial system, most particularly the judiciary, to remember that we have a responsibility to enhance public confidence and it is important for us to dedicate and re-dedicate ourselves to the issue of public education and public outreach,” wrote Wyant. “The days are gone when judges could sit quietly in their chambers and wrap themselves in the cloak of judicial independence.”
The problem with Wyant’s comments is that he still doesn’t understand the real reason for the decline in public confidence.
It has nothing to do with a lack of public outreach by judges. That implies the public is losing confidence in the justice system because they don’t understand it.
Nope.
It has to do with the fact judges constantly hand out unfit sentences for serious crimes. Actually, it’s ironic that Wyant would even make that comment, because he presided over one of the worst travesties of justice in recent decades.
Wyant was the judge in the case of former cop Derek Harvey-Zenk, who got off scot-free after killing Crystal Taman when he slammed his car into hers in 2007.
Harvey-Zenk walked away with a conditional sentence, or house arrest, for his crime. The travesty of justice was so severe the provincial government called a judicial inquiry into it.
There were many things that contributed to that perversion of justice. One of those was Wyant’s sentence.
Wyant had before him a joint-sentencing recommendation for a conditional sentence. That joint recommendation brought the criminal justice system into disrepute, according to commissioner Roger Salhany.
Yet Wyant accepted it.
Judges do not have to accept joint recommendations. They have rejected them in the past, and many have withstood appeals.
Judges can overrule a joint recommendation if they have good reason to do so, including if the proposed sentence is unfit.
In the case of Harvey-Zenk, the proposed conditional sentence was clearly unfit, as confirmed by Salhany.
Yet Wyant failed to replace it with a fit one.
It is decisions like those that bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
That’s why people have lost confidence in the justice system. It has nothing to do with the need for judges to better educate the public.
It’s great that Wyant makes himself available to the news media to comment on issues.
But he’s confused about why public confidence in the justice system continues to decline. His decision in the Harvey-Zenk case, and others like it, are contributing to that decline.
And he and other judges had better take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror if they want public confidence to return to the courthouse.

-30

Categories: Politics

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3 comments

  1. vic timm says:

    How about the *Brown Nose* award for Karen Wittman.

  2. Fred Gunzel says:

    What happened to checking the facts before you open your mouth. An intern is taught to find loopholes and legal statements and decisions. That requires taking lots of time to actually read the texts as they exist. Taking shots at the press to impress legal think tanks in the Hallowed Halls of Justice, is a sure way to ruin your ascent. Kissing rear ends does you no good if you don’t have brains to follow through when called upon to make statements.

  3. Fred Gunzel says:

    Gee, my comment last night didn’t make it to this section. My term was just a little different from the ‘Brown Nose’
    question. The thought remains the same. Ms. Wittman didn’t do her homework, and has no real honest comeback for Broadbeck’s column. She’s simply out to lunch. I give her an honourary “Eight Ball” just the same.

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