21 August 2009

Rumpole and the Piss Pot

[Originally posted as "Strong language welcome...sometimes"]

Today he’s the interim child and youth advocate but a decade ago, then-Provincial Court Judge John Rorke was facing disciplinary action for remarks at a sentencing for armed robbery.

Justice Robert Wells - appointed to review the complaint - decided that Rorke’s language at the sentencing was “inappropriate”. As the Telegram reported it at the time,

Inappropriateness occurred at two levels, Wells wrote. "Firstly, a judge should not use unacceptable language in the course of judicial duties. Expressions such as 'haven't got a pot to piss in' are simply unacceptable when coming from a presiding judge, as are personal references such as 'I've had a dozen beer in me, a good many times.'"

Rorke also observed that the young man, who had robbed a pizza delivery man at a house on Paddy Dobbin Drive in the east end of St. John’s, had placed the Crown and the judge in a bind with respect to sentencing.

The young man was handed a 12 month conditional sentence, as opposed to the three years which Rorke said in his decision was more typical for the offence under the circumstances.

"So, the next guy I got to look at and say three years is going to throw back at me, 'Oh yeah, you let the rich boys go because they are your buddies, they are your friends. There's no justice here.' That's the jam you put me in. That's the jam you put the Crown in," he said.

The young man at the original criminal trial was represented by Danny Williams and his law partner Steve Marshall.

Williams told the Telegram in 1999 he had no problem with Rorke’s language if it worked to “save a soul”. Williams did subsequently take umbrage at strong language from another judge in Ruelokke v. Newfoundland and Labrador aimed at actions to which Williams was a party.

Rorke was reprimanded by the disciplinary review.