Dispute between Nova Scotia judges lands in court

A dispute involving two Nova Scotia judges and the province's top judge landed in Supreme Court on Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
A dispute involving two Nova Scotia judges and the province's top judge landed in Supreme Court on Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

A Nova Scotia provincial court judge whose complaint against a fellow judge was rejected by the province's chief justice is seeking a judicial review of that decision.

Lawyers for Judge Rickola Brinton argued Thursday that Chief Justice Michael Wood's decision to reject the complaint did not meet the standard for fairness.

Brinton lodged a complaint against Pam Williams, the former chief provincial court judge, with the Nova Scotia Judicial Council as part of a dispute arising from COVID-19 vaccination policies.

The council is the body that investigates complaints against judges. Wood, in his capacity as council chair, rejected Brinton's complaint.

Brinton's lawyer, James Manson, argued Thursday that Wood was wrong to contact Williams about Brinton's complaint and had a duty to let Brinton know how the other judge responded.

Lawyers for the judicial council countered that complainants are not entitled to participate in the investigation of their complaint.

Justice Christa Brothers reserved her decision Thursday on the judicial review and did not indicate when she'll be in a position to issue a ruling.

$5M civil suit launched

The case has its origins in the COVID-19 pandemic when Nova Scotia courts were trying to figure out how to cope with the disease.

The long-simmering dispute spilled into the open last September, when Brinton launched a $5-million civil suit against Williams and other justice officials.

According to Brinton's lawsuit, Williams emailed judges of the court in September 2021, asking about their vaccine status. Brinton replied she had reservations about disclosing her status and "concerns with medical privacy."

Court documents reveal that Brinton later contracted COVID-19, but signalled she was ready to return to work following a quarantine period. In the interim, however, a policy was implemented requiring presiding judges to be fully vaccinated. Brinton again declined to reveal her vaccination status.

The lawsuit claims Williams contacted Brinton's doctor seeking her medical status, but he refused to disclose the information. Brinton said the situation was causing her stress and she went on disability leave.

Williams eventually told Brinton she would have to suspend her, according to the lawsuit, although lawyers for Williams argued Thursday that Brinton went on leave and there was no official suspension.

Briton's notice of action also quoted a February 2022 letter from Williams to Brinton that said Brinton would be considered unvaccinated and unable to preside in person in a courtroom because she would not divulge her vaccination status. The note concludes: "Regrettably, I will have no recourse other than to suspend you and refer the matter to the judicial council."

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia judiciary said Williams never submitted a complaint about Brinton to the council.

None of the allegations has been tested in court.

Brinton has still not revealed her vaccination status, nor has she resumed presiding in court.