Pull Cosgrove from the bench: judicial council

Removal sought over botched murder trial of Kemptville man

Ottawa resident Steven Foster says it's no victory, but "we do feel vindicated" that the judge who set free his father's murderer may finally be pulled from the bench.

The Canadian Judicial Council said Tuesday that Justice Paul Cosgrove should be removed because he so thoroughly botched the 1998 trial of Julia Elliott, accused of killing and dismembering Lawrence Foster, a Kemptville mechanic.

"You can't turn back the hands of time, the trial can't be had again," said Foster. "I think the justice system has done what it had to do to patch up its own rooms."

The council said public confidence in Cosgrove's abilities has been "irrevocably lost" and no "alternative measure to removal" could restore public confidence in the judge, the judicial council said in its 16-page decision.

"The judge's misconduct was so serious and so destructive of public confidence that no apology, no matter its sincerity, can restore public confidence in the judge's ability to impartially carry out his duties in future," said the report by 22 chief justices and senior judges of the judicial council.

Removing a judge from the bench requires a joint resolution of Parliament, and Cosgrove is only the second judge recommended for dismissal by the judicial council.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the report is being reviewed.

In early March, Cosgrove appeared before the judicial council in a last bid to save his job after an inquiry committee of the judicial body found there were grounds to justify recommending his removal from the bench for misconduct during the Elliott trial.

Cosgrove did not dispute the inquiry committee's findings of misconduct. But his lawyer, Chris Paliare, urged the panel to consider the 32 character letters written on behalf of Cosgrove, his complaint-free record following the Elliott case, and his "utmost" regret and acknowledgment of his actions.

He said removing Cosgrove from the bench would be akin to "capital punishment for a judge."

On Tuesday, Paliare said the decision was "obviously disappointing," but he had not had a chance to speak with Cosgrove about it.

In 1996, the judicial council recommended the removal of Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean Bienvenue, but he resigned before the minister of justice's address to Parliament.

It's likely Cosgrove will do the same, said Grant Huscroft, a constitutional law professor at the University of Western Ontario.

"I would expect the judge to resign at this stage," Huscroft said. "There hasn't been an instance of a matter like this getting to Parliament in the past, and I wouldn't expect this to get to Parliament."

Cosgrove, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister and mayor of Scarborough, Ont., was appointed to the bench in 1984.

In 1998, he sparked outrage with his decision to clear Elliott of first-degree murder

in the death of Foster, whose body parts were found in the Rideau River near his Kemptville, Ont., home in 1995.

Cosgrove ruled prosecutors and police committed more than 150 violations of Elliott's Charter rights, but the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the stay in December 2003, saying, "there was no factual basis" for Cosgrove's findings, and he had "misused his power."

A few months later, former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant made the rare move of asking the judicial council to investigate the judge's handling of the case.

Meanwhile, Elliott returned to her home in Barbados. She was later found in Costa Rica and extradited back to Canada, where she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a seven-year sentence.