A Canadian judge who wore a pro-Trump "Make America Great Again" hat to court the day after President Donald Trump won last year's presidential election faces a "public disciple hearing" for wearing the hat.
According to the Toronto Star, Ontario court Justice Bernd Zabel wore the "MAGA" hat to court on Nov. 9 and declared his support for Trump. During court, he was quoted saying: "Brief appearance with the hat. Pissed off the rest of the judges because they all voted for Hillary, so. I was the only Trump supporter up there but that’s okay."
One week later, after his fellow justices were upset over the move, Zabel apologized in court for his "lapse in judgment" and a "breach of the principles of judicial office."
"What I did was wrong. I wish to apologize for my misguided attempts to mark a moment in history by humour in the courtroom following the surprising results in the United States election," he said.
"This gesture was not intended in any way as a political statement or endorsement of any political views, and, in particular, the views and comments of Donald Trump. I very much regret that it has been taken as such," the justice explained.
However, the differences in what he said in court on Nov. 9 versus Nov. 15 is where part of the scrutiny against him lies.
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The difference between those comments and the apology are highlighted in a complaint submitted to the Ontario Judicial Council, the independent body that investigates provincial court judges: “The public statement given by him on Nov. 15, 2016 about his conduct was not consistent with comments he made in court on Nov. 9, 2016.”
His discipline hearing is set to begin Aug. 23 in Toronto, and will be heard by a panel comprising a judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal, a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, a lawyer and a community member.
Ultimately, 81 separate complains were filed against Zabel over his comments and decision to wear the "MAGA" hat. Critics argue Zabel's actions prove his lack of impartiality.
"His Honour’s conduct negatively impacted the confidence of members of the public in his ability to carry out his judicial duties fairly, impartially and without bias or prejudice," reads a summary of the complaints against Zabel.
"His Honour’s conduct compromised the public’s perception of the independence of the judiciary from politics and constituted a statement about his political views and those of his judicial colleagues," it adds.
If Zabel is found guilty of judicial misconduct, he could face penalties that include a simple reprimand, paid or unpaid suspension, or even recommendation that he be removed from the court.
Zabel, who has been on the court since 1990, might even choose to retire over the incident. He hasn't heard a single case since December because of scrutiny over his choice to wear the "MAGA" hat.