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Record-editing judge scolded
Oversight body issues warning after jurist alters court transcript
Toronto Star, Robyn Doolittle, Staff Reporter, May 24, 2007
A repentant Justice Marvin Zuker acknowledged he committed judicial misconduct when he altered court transcripts in 2005, after learning they were to be used in an appeal case.
As a result, the well-respected family law judge was let off with only a warning yesterday by the Ontario Judicial Council.
The panel could have recommended Zuker's removal, but said his spotless 28-year record, coupled with his apology and emotional stress since the scandal broke, justifies the lesser punishment.
Panel judge Robert Blair said media coverage of the hearing and ongoing attempts by the complainant to have criminal charges laid have taken "a significant toll on Justice Zuker."
Blair also noted Zuker didn't try to hide his corrections, as the original transcript with his handwritten edits is still available.
But disbarred lawyer Harry Kopyto, who made the complaint, called the council's ruling "absolutely outrageous" given the offence.
The controversy began July 29, 2005, after Zuker refused to allow Kopyto to represent his client in family court.
The judge cited Kopyto's reputation for being overly adversarial. It was comments to that effect that Zuker contentiously removed from the transcript, after Kopyto requested a copy in order to file an appeal for his client, Robin Mayer.
Council highlighted 31 transcript edits, although most were for spelling, grammar, punctuation and redundancies - all of which are acceptable corrections. Zuker maintains he deleted the other comments fearing Kopyto would be embarrassed by the remarks should the documents be made public.
It was "an error in judgment and I regret it," Zuker told the hearing.
Kopyto, who was not at the hearing, said yesterday there seems to be a double standard for judges who get in trouble.
"This guy gets the least punishment for what must be one of the worst things a judge can do," Kopyto said. "You and I would be in jail if we changed a court transcript."
Philip Epstein, Zuker's lawyer, said the blunder was a "slip from grace" in an otherwise distinguished career.
As well, the public nature of the hearing has been difficult enough.
After the hearing, Epstein lunged at a Toronto Star photographer who was attempting to take the judge's photo.
"Leave him alone! He's been through enough. Go Marvin," Epstein repeatedly yelled, clutching the camera strap, while Zuker sprinted through an underground walkway.
The tussle continued for several minutes, until the photographer threatened legal action and Epstein put the camera down.
It was a controversial ending to a controversial case.
But Kopyto says he has no intention of stopping.
The renegade legal agent says he and his client intend to sue Zuker, and plan to continue their campaign to have the judge charged with obstruction of justice.
Kopyto is a controversial figure in the Toronto legal community.
In the 1990s, he was disbarred for billing irregularities, but he has continued to act as a paralegal.
Today, cases in which he's involved, including one in which he's suing Toronto police after a justice of the peace kicked him out of a courtroom for dressing too colourfully, have earned him a reputation for being difficult.
Canada Court Watch calls for the firing of this judge
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[PDF] Ontario Judicial Council condones breaking of the law by judges in ...