11/26/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 01/25/2013 05:12 EST

Ontario judge reprimanded for dismissing slew of cases over small delay

TORONTO - An Ontario judge who tossed out several criminal cases after a prosecutor was minutes late received a rebuke Monday from a disciplinary panel that opted for one of the softer possible penalties.

The Ontario Judicial Council reprimanded Ontario Court Justice Howard Chisvin's after finding that his actions had a "detrimental effect on public confidence in the administration of justice."

Chisvin blamed unspecified personal issues for his behaviour that day in July 2011 and his lawyer noted the judge almost immediately alerted his regional senior judge to what he had done, realizing his error, and took a two-week stress leave.

He choked up as he read a statement to the panel on Monday apologizing for his conduct.

"My only wish is to rededicate myself to serving the public and the administration of justice in a fair, responsible and even-handed manner," Chisvin said.

He sought counselling and is proposing a program for other judges on dealing with stress, the hearing was told.

The judicial council panel could have imposed a number of sanctions on Chisvin, right up to recommending the Ministry of the Attorney General remove him from the bench, but it said a formal reprimand would be sufficient to restore public confidence in him and the justice system.

"While Justice Chisvin's otherwise exemplary behaviour does not excuse the conduct giving rise to this hearing...it bears directly on the disposition that must be imposed," said panel member and Appeal Court Justice Robert Sharpe.

"We conclude that the incident giving rise to this hearing was an aberration by a hardworking, dedicated judge who has fully acknowledged his conduct and does not minimize its impact."

The panel was given 45 letters of support for Chisvin from fellow judges and lawyers who have appeared in his courtroom.

Chisvin blamed personal stress for his actions in dismissing charges against 10 people who were either waiting to plead guilty or be sentenced in his Newmarket courtroom, after the prosecutor was minutes late coming back from a break.

Those charges included robbery, assault, impaired driving, theft and credit card forgery offences.

When Chisvin returned to court after a 20-minute break — and the Crown was not there — he sent word to the prosecutor that if he was not there in a minute, all remaining cases would be dismissed.

Efforts were made to contact the prosecutor but two minutes later, the trial judge tossed out all the day's remaining provincial matters.

Crown attorney Brian McCallion returned about eight minutes later. He apologized to the judge, saying he'd been in his office reading a pre-sentence report he had just received.

"That might be. Court comes when court is back," Chisvin replied.

"You were paged. You were paged in the hallway, the Crown's office was called, no Crown. They're dismissed for want of prosecution."

The panel heard Monday that the Ministry of the Attorney General had to use significant resources to bring all those people back before the court and resolve their cases properly.

Disciplinary hearings for judges are quite rare, and it's even rarer for judicial councils to recommend a judge lose his or her job.

Chisvin was appointed to the provincial court bench in 2004 by then-attorney general Michael Bryant.