24 August 2009

Rumpole and the Old, Old Story

The sorry tale of the Summer of Discontent in Gander turns out to be a much sorrier tale than first appeared.

At the end of a story entitled “One Judge Short” from last February (not online), The Beacon reported that then-provincial Court Chief Judge Reg Reid had “requested the minister fill the position [in Gander] as quickly as possible.” 

It seems that justice minister Tom Marshall could have used the same list of candidates from which he picked Don Singleton for a round of musical judicial chairs to also find a name to fill the vacancy in Gander.

When the Singleton appointment went sour, though, Marshall did nothing with either of the two vacancies.  Nor did he do anything with the list of candidates in front of him either – except flick it to one side - even though there were other names on it of people who not only met the bare minimums set out in the legislation but exceeded them. 

And that was six months ago.

In the meantime, not only are there still vacancies in Gander and St. John’s yet to be filled but two more have turned up.

Chief Judge Reg Reid retired in April.  That leaves newbie Judge Mark Pike in the role of assistant chief judge, a position that appears to have been created for him to fill but there is still a new vacancy in St. John’s.

On top of that, Judge Joe Woodrow – familiar to visitors to Courtroom Number Seven  - opted to retire in February and now sits on a per diem basis (as required).

There you have it:  three judges’ seats in St. John’s empty and one in Gander, all of which need to be filled.  Plus – and for some equally unfathomable reason – cabinet has not gotten around to appointing a replacement for Reid even though he’s been gone since April.  The chief judge’s job is a cabinet appointment, you see.

As a sign of how serious the problem is in Gander, consider that The Beacon reported last February the issue came up at a Gander town council meeting that month.

The chair of the town’s economic development committee wanted someone to have a chat with Hander member of the House of Assembly Kevin O’Brien.  The prospect of having cases directed to other towns caused some furrowed brows, it seems, since the people attending trials in Gander bring with them a certain benefit to the local innkeepers and restauranteurs. The slowdown in the courthouse meant a slowdown in the local economy.

Now this sort of dithering and delay is nothing new either for the justice department or the current administration as a whole.

Retired justice Bill Marshall (no relation) has been working on not one but two separate “reviews” one of which appears to have been underway since 2004.  Not a thing has come of either review and the government is also refusing to release any information about the status of either review.

Since 2003, a surprising number of senior public service positions have gone without a permanent appointment for periods of up to two years.  Some are appointed on an acting basis for extraordinarily long times and for no apparent reason. In other instances, legislation is passed but  not put into effect and in other instances, reports and promised policies have sat untended for two or three years.  It’s all part of the “missing in action” syndrome that befalls chunks of government these days.

Now part of the cause of all this might be that the appointments to the bench are supposed to be made  - ultimately - by the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council.  That’s legalese ease for cabinet.  And, if the practice with deputy ministers is any indication, “cabinet appointment” now means the picks are made by the Premier Himself and only the Premier.

And if he is pre-occupied with other things, no matter what those other things are, … well, that’s been pretty much the old, old story of this administration since Day One.