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Chretien lawyer ponders having 
Gomery removed  

[PoliticsWatch Updated 1:00 p.m. January 11, 2005]

Justice John Gomery 
(photo courtesy Jake Wright: www.jakewright.ca)

OTTAWA — A lawyer for former prime minister Jean Chretien said he is considering an attempt to have the head of the sponsorship inquiry removed for impartiality. 
 
David Scott made the comments in reference to interviews Justice John Gomery gave to the media before Christmas in which he offered his views on evidence and witnesses that appeared before the inquiry.

"He has basically said he considers it not inappropriate, that what the said (in the interviews) is perfectly acceptable,'' CTV quoted Scott, who may go to federal court to have the judge removed, as saying. 

In the first day of hearings at the inquiry this year, it was the judge overseeing proceedings, not a witness, that was in the hot seat.

Gomery defended comments he made in his pre-Christmas interviews with the National Post, Globe and Mail and Toronto Star after Scott and a lawyer for Chretien's chief of staff, Jean Pelletier, demanded an explanation of the comments and whether they reflected a lack of impartiality on the judge's part. 

In a series of interviews with the media before the commission broke for Christmas break, Gomery spoke frankly about a number of matters before his commission, including calling the central figure in the scandal, Chuck Guite, "a charming scamp" who "had his department mesmerized," and saying that he was " coming to the same conclusion as (Auditor General) Sheila Fraser that this was a government program which was run in a catastrophically bad way."

Gomery tried to reassure the two lawyers that his remarks were nothing more than part of the job of a modern-day judge.

"There have been changes over the years in what is expected of a judge or of a person presiding over an inquiry of this kind," Gomery said at the inquiry. 

"Fifty years ago, most judges sat stony faced throughout a hearing, never made an intervention, never asked a question, never made a comment and didn't say anything until the moment when judgment was rendered. That was regarded as proper judicial comment."

"That is no longer the case," he added. "Today, judges intervene actively in trials and in commissions. I think it is expected of them that they will make comments sometimes to the witnesses, ask questions and even reveal a little bit what impression the evidence is having upon them."

Gomery said his decision to speak with reporters was due to pressure over the years for judges to "come out of their ivory towers to establish some sort of relationship with the media."

"It was understanding this evolution that led me to grant certain interviews at the end of the year," he said, adding that the media sought him out and wasn't him who sought out the attention. 

Gomery added that he was "very sorry" if his comments "caused anxiety or concern on the part of any person who is interested in what is happening in this inquiry."

He also said that despite what he said in his interviews he has not reached any conclusions yet in general or on questions of credibility.

Earlier Scott, read a statement outlining some of the "grave concerns" he and the former PM had about Gomery's comments to the press.

"After a careful review of your remarks, we have a genuine concern that, notwithstanding the fact that the evidentiary phase continues, you have nonetheless reached conclusions of fact or drawn inferences from the facts before the evidence is complete and submissions have been received from all the participants," Scott said.

"In effect that, with respect at least to certain matters, you have closed your mind in the middle of the evidentiary phase."

Scott touched on a number of comments of a political nature Gomery made in his interviews, such as saying his findings could have an impact on public confidence in the government which lost its majority largely due to the sponsorship scandal and that his findings could be harmful to Prime Minister Paul Martin's political career.

"We would have expected that instead of developing your views in the newspapers on these matters at this juncture, you would have been exercising your judicial instincts to ensure that the public does not leap to unwarranted conclusions in the course of the evidence," said Scott.

Guy Pratte, counsel for Pelletier, said his client decided against seeking reccusal against Gomery because it would only lead to lengthy litigation and delay the release of a report. 

"Mr. Pelletier seeks instead clear and explicit assurances to the effect that none of the comments that you made and were reported in the press … reflect any prejudgment on your part or more generally the commission's part," he said.

Gomery will continue hearing witnesses in Ottawa until February 11. His inquiry will then move to Montreal for "Phase II" and hear from witnesses there for 10 weeks ending in the middle of May.

A final report is expected for December of this year.    

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