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Manitoba judge’s nude photos shouldn’t be an issue: legal experts

Decades ago, queer judges might have been asked to resign, notes law prof

Aspiring judges, beware. If your naked body is online, you’re in for a rough ride to the bench.

Just ask Lori Douglas, a senior judge in Manitoba, who is in hot water for appearing in nude photos posted at darkcavern.com — a website that promotes interracial sex. It’s one piece of a larger and more complicated saga involving Douglas, her husband and one of his former clients that includes solicitation of sexual favours, alleged extortion and pictures of kinky sex.

Seven years ago, Douglas was still a lawyer at the same firm as her husband, Jack King. King allegedly approached a former client, Alexander Chapman, a black man, and pressured him to have sex with Douglas. He also allegedly passed along the same photos of Douglas that were posted online.

Feeling harassed, Chapman complained to the firm and eventually received $25,000 to keep the whole thing quiet. But he has since gone public with his story. For her part, Douglas claims to have been in the dark about the alleged solicitation of sex and the online posting of pictures.

There are a lot of complicating factors in the story, but at its heart lies a controversial set of pictures that feature a sitting judge flashing some skin — and perhaps some leather. Xtra wondered exactly what was wrong with those photos being online.

King’s lawyer, Bob Gange, says there’s nothing wrong with it at all.

“I don’t see anything in the code of conduct that would in any way relate to that. Lawyers do all kinds of things in their private lives that might be embarrassing. There’s no set prohibition on that,” he said. “You couldn’t do a Google search for Lori Douglas and find those photos.”

Another Manitoba lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there’s nothing basically wrong with a judge appearing in nude photos.

“It’s common practice. It’s not even like it’s on the edge of morality. There’s a difference between criminal activity and conduct that is unbecoming of a lawyer, but it’s not conduct unbecoming of a lawyer to be involved in sex photographs or even bondage,” the source said.

Trevor Farrow, a legal expert at Osgoode Hall, said that Douglas and King are entitled to their privacy.

“Everyone expects judges to be human, and no one expects that they should be walking around with cameras in their bedroom or their living room where the public is scrutinizing everything they do,” he said.

But Farrow said that, at the end of the day, nude pictures floating around the internet are seen as bad behaviour for judges, who are held to a higher standard than most citizens.

“[Judges are] going to be dealing with people and making judgments about people’s conduct. And if people are questioning the judge’s own conduct, it’s hard to take that judgment seriously,” he said.

Adam Dodek, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said some of the criticism levelled against Douglas is unfair. He wasn’t convinced that nude photos impair her ability to do her job.

“It’s not clear how it would impact a judge’s ability to be impartial,” said Dodek. “The moral objection is a very slippery slope.”

In decades past, Dodek said, queer judges might have been asked to resign based on their sexual orientation. “I don’t think that was a valid argument then. And I don’t think it should be a valid argument with [Douglas] now.”

Arthur Schafer, the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, said the Canadian judiciary has certainly changed over time. Judges don’t wear white wigs anymore, as their British counterparts still do; neither do they always wear their iconic black robes.

“But they don’t come in bikinis or Speedos,” he said.

In the wake of the uproar over Douglas’s online conduct, darkcavern.com posted a statement online.

“As for the comments by various people that the types of sexual activity enjoyed by the couple make [Douglas] unfit for her role in public office, we would like to just say that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” it reads. “Human sexuality is complicated, and if the truth were told, the person without his or her own ‘hidden’ sexual pecadillos [is] very few and far between. There is no reason to link legal and mutually enjoyed sexual activity between adults with a lack of jurisprudential intelligence or capability. There is no correlation whatsoever.