Ricardo G. Federico In The News

Hamilton judge who wore Trump hat in court admits he committed misconduct

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FEATURED: Toronto Star| WRITTEN BY: Jacques Gallant| August 23, 2017

A Hamilton judge who wore a pro-Donald Trump hat to court the day after the U.S. election admitted at his discipline hearing Wednesday that he committed judicial misconduct.

Ontario Court Justice Bernd Zabel, appointed in 1990, testified at the hearing that he bought the red “Make America Great Again” ball cap because it was “historical memorabilia.”

He said he regrets his actions on Nov. 9 immensely.

“I’m not a Trump supporter,” Zabel said Wednesday. “I find it very difficult to find the words to express my profound regret for what I did that day.”

Zabel agreed under cross-examination by presenting counsel Linda Rothstein that people may think the hat could be tied to sexism, racism and bigotry, but said he does not ascribe to those views.

Zabel told a four-member discipline panel, chaired by Court of Appeal Justice Robert Sharpe, that he bought five of the ball caps on Amazon in June 2016 when it looked like Trump was going to win the Republican nomination. He gave four to his friends and kept one for himself.

He wore the hat for about one minute on Nov. 9 to court to “lighten the proceedings” after having had just a few hours of sleep. He then placed it on the dais in front of him and brought it back to his chambers at the morning break.

Before going into court that day, he ran into his colleague Justice Marjoh Agro, who testified Wednesday that she told Zabel “Are you out of your mind?” when she saw the hat.

“I remember the day all too well because frankly, I regret not ripping that hat off his head,” Agro said.

Zabel was pulled off of cases on Dec. 21, and Agro testified that it “caused havoc,” as trials had to be rescheduled and one matter is at risk of being stayed due to delay.

“He’s not the only one that’s paid a penalty,” she said, who added she would have no concerns with Zabel coming back to work.

Zabel already apologized in court on Nov. 15 for wearing the hat, but critics said that was at odds with a statement he made at the end of the day in court on Nov. 9 — and that only emerged after the Nov. 15 apology — where he said he “pissed off the rest of the judges because they all voted for Hillary, so I was only the Trump supporter up there but that’s OK.”

Zabel said Wednesday that his words were “ill-considered” and what he meant to say was that he was the only judge who had predicted Trump would win.

“Why would I ever say they voted for Hillary? They can’t vote for Hillary. It was a ridiculous thing to say.”

Police officers were stationed outside the hearing room Wednesday. In the afternoon, lawyers will make submissions on the punishment Zabel should receive.