An Ontario judge who wore a hat in court bearing a slogan used by U.S. President Donald Trump has been suspended without pay over the incident.
The Ontario Judicial Council says Justice Bernd Zabel’s conduct warrants the most serious reprimand possible short of removing him from the bench.
The council, which heard Zabel’s case last month, says the incident marks a “single aberrant and inexplicable act of judicial misconduct” from an otherwise respected judge.
Zabel will be suspended for 30 days. The Hamilton-based judge has not been assigned cases since January.
At his hearing last month, Zabel said he meant to lighten the mood by wearing a baseball cap with the slogan “Make America Great Again” while walking into court on Nov. 9, 2016 — the day after Trump won the U.S. election.
He testified that it was only after his actions made headlines that he realized some believed he was showing support for the controversial American president and his policies.
“Justice Zabel’s conduct that day gave rise to a perception by many that he was a Trump supporter and that he agreed with Trump’s views and policies. In doing so, he violated a fundamental principle of judicial ethics and, particularly in view of the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s campaign, engaged in serious misconduct,” the council panel wrote in a decision released Tuesday.
“His conduct on Nov. 9, 2016 was completely at odds with the exemplary judge he has been for the past 27 years. We are satisfied that Justice Zabel does not hold any of the discriminatory views that the complainants attribute to Donald Trump,” it said.
“We are satisfied that members of vulnerable groups need have no fear about the treatment they would receive from Justice Zabel.”
Zabel’s actions prompted 81 complaints to the council.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press