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Hat flap

Canadian judge who wore 'Make America Great Again' hat in court barred from hearing cases

Canadian judge who wore ‘Make America Great Again’ hat in court barred from hearing cases

A Canadian judge who wore a “Make America Great Again” hat to court the day after Donald Trump was elected president is no longer being assigned cases.

Justice Bernd Zabel, who showed up to the Hamilton courthouse on the morning of Nov. 9 wearing the baseball camp that’s become a symbol of Trump’s campaign and supporters, hasn’t heard a new case since Dec. 21, 2016, according to the Toronto Star.

Several organizations, like the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, which filed a complaint with the Ontario Judicial Council criticized Zebel’s actions, have raised concerns about his impartiality.

Following the reports of Zabel wearing the hat, a number of individuals and organizations, including the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, made formal complaints about the judge to the Ontario Judicial Council, which has the power to investigate judges’ conduct and suspend them or recommend to the Attorney General that they be removed from office.

About a week later, the judge offered an apology and said his wearing the hat was a “lapse in judgment,” and breached the principle of the judicial office. Zabel also claimed that he didn’t mean to make a political statement or endorse any political views, and that his actions were an attempt at humour.

But a transcript later obtained by the Toronto Star showed that Zabel had openly expressed his support for the president-elect in court that day.

“Brief appearance with the hat. Pissed off the rest of the judges because they all voted for Hillary, so,” he said, according to the Star. “I was the only Trump supporter up there but that’s OK,” Zabel said just before court closed, according to the certified transcript.

For now, lawyers involved in cases where Zabel was the presiding judge will have to wait for instructions from the Crown’s office. They could end up being reheard or taken over by another judge, the Star reported.

As for the complaint before the Ontario Judicial council, it will be investigated by a judge and a community member, who will write a report that will then be presented to a four-person panel for review. That panel will be able to either dismiss the complaint, refer it to the Chief Justice of Ontario, or have a public hearing for it.

If the judicial council deems Zebel’s actions to be professional misconduct, they could reprimand him, suspend him, or recommend to the Attorney General that he be removed from the bench.  

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