Judge Who Wore Trump Hat To Court Must Step Down: City Councillor

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HAMILTON — A city councillor in Hamilton says a judge who reportedly wore a hat showing support for Donald Trump in the courtroom should step down or be removed from the bench.

Coun. Matthew Green spoke out on social media Friday following a report in The Globe and Mail that Judge Bernd Zabel — who works in a Hamilton courthouse — wore a hat that read `"Make America Great Again,'' a campaign slogan used by the U.S. president-elect.

In his statement, Green said Ontario's judicial system should steer clear of politics.

"I certainly would not feel like I was getting an unbiased decision if I walked into a court of law and saw a 'Make America Great Again' hat, knowing that this week the Ku Klux Klan is about to hold a victory rally for ... Trump in North Carolina,'' he said Saturday.

The city councillor called on the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice to remove Zabel from the bench if he does not resign, and the Hamilton Spectator reported that a complaint against Zabel has been filed with the Ontario Judicial Council.

Green noted that judges are specifically told not to participate "in any partisan political activity'' in the Principles of Judicial Office, a document created by the Ontario Court of Justice.

But the guidelines are "advisory in nature,'' the document explains. They're there so judges have a sense of what is and is not appropriate, and so citizens know what to expect of them.

"Who holds him accountable?''

In the social media statement, Green argued that because of the "clear racism, sexism and xenophobia'' in the American election, Zabel's display could "underscore the distrust many Canadians feel'' towards the justice system.

"Who holds him accountable?'' Green asked. "For me to have a political opinion, that's what I was elected to do.''

make america great again hat
An attendee wearing a hat reading 'Make America Great Again' waits for the arrival of Donald Trump during a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Oct. 28, 2016.

"If this Judge Zabel wants to be a politician, then I encourage him to step down from the bench and run for office. He's got no business in the political arena, as per his Principles of Judicial Office.''

Troy Riddell, a professor who specializes in judicial politics at the University of Guelph, wrote in an email that the judge wearing a hat supporting Donald Trump may be enough grounds for the Ontario Judicial Council to take disciplinary action beyond just a warning. But he added that he "would be surprised if the council recommended removal from the bench.''

"We do not know if Justice Zabel supported Trump's anti-establishment narrative, or his policies on trade or ISIS, or the darker undertones of Trump. This differs, for example, from judges who have directly made inappropriate comments about women or minorities,'' he wrote.

The Canadian Press was unable to reach Zabel or Lise Maisonneuve, the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, for comment on Saturday.

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