12 January 2009

Rumpole and the Nose Puller

As CBC’s David Cochrane reported this evening Don Singleton had not one but three run-ins with the law for impaired driving in the 1980s over the course of three years. The first two never amounted to anything - one dismissed, the other dropped - but on the third one, Singleton blew one and a half times the legal limit and lost his license for six months. He also received a fine of $700. [corrected from two and a half times the limit in original]

The erstwhile provincial court judge took his name out of contention after inquiries turned up the impaired driving conviction.

Singleton claims he forgot about the conviction when he applied to be a judge last fall.

The court records for the three charges are available online, courtesy of cbc.ca/nl. Cochrane’s debrief can also be found there in ram audio file format.

The records turned up on Friday following an inquiry by a local reporter for records of any convictions against Singleton. The first search turned up nothing, apparently due to data entry errors - different birth date and address - in the database.

The inquiry prompted Chief Judge Reg Reid to search further. That second search turned up the conviction and two earlier charges. Interviewed by CBC’s Deanne Fleet, Reid said that, although he was the presiding judge in the 1990 conviction, there was nothing that made Singleton stand out at the time such that he remembered him.

Thus far, public comment is focusing on the need for a background check on all applicants for judicial appointments.

That ignores the fairly obvious question of why justice minister Tom Marshall plucked Singleton from a list of upwards of 30 applicants. Junior at the bar – barely past the minimum requirement for time in practice – Singleton didn’t seem to fit the same pattern as some of the appointees over the past decade.

Marshall also said he asked Reid to change the judicial committee's policy on background checks.

"I've asked him to review their policies and procedures and to implement a mandatory police search and provincial court search for every applicant," Marshall said.

While he’s at it, the justice minister should also change the policy for background checks on appointments to quasi-judicial panels as well. Singleton was appointed to the labour relations board in 2005 around the time of his conviction on the tax and import charges.