Wrongful Conviction Lawyer In Hot Water For Criticizing Judges “who don't know what they are doing.”

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2005, page 23

Attorney Jerome Kennedy is Newfoundland’s representative for Canada’s Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. Kennedy was a key person in the exoneration of Gregory Parsons and Ronald Dalton. Parsons’ 1994 conviction of murdering his mother was quashed in 1998 when DNA evidence proved his innocence. Dalton’s conviction of murdering his wife was quashed in 1998 when forensic medical evidence established that she had not been strangled, but had died from chocking on a piece of food. He was acquitted after a retrial in 2000.

In July 2003 Kennedy gave a speech prior to the convening of an inquiry into the reasons for the wrongful conviction in Newfoundland of three people - Parsons, Dalton, and Randy Druken. Kennedy expressed the opinion that every aspect of the legal system should come under scrutiny during the inquiry to determine what caused the convictions - including the role of the judges and jurors involved. He said that was important because one reason for wrongful convictions are trial judges “who don't know what they are doing.” Kennedy identified that “Part of this is as a result of political appointments.” He also said, “Part of it is as a result of intentional or unintentional biases -- in other words, the forming of a belief in guilt before all the evidence is in.”

Kennedy’s speech was reported in the media. Chief Justice Derek Green of the trial division of the Newfoundland Supreme Court responded by filing a complaint with the Law Society (Bar Association) of Newfoundland, claiming that Kennedy’s comments could reduce public confidence in the judiciary. Justice Green wrote,

“These imputations strike directly at the heart of the judicial oath. If true, they would be grounds for removal from office of every judge affected by the allegations. My concern with Mr. Kennedy's comments is that they appear to be a generalized condemnation of the judges of the Supreme Court, reflecting on their general competence as well as suggesting not only inherent and systemic bias, but also deliberate -- i.e. intentional -- partiality and closed-mindedness.”

Several lawyers in Canada have defended Kennedy, pointing out that some of his statements were matters of fact, such as the appointment of judges, and others were expressions of opinion protected by freedom of speech.

The Law Society’s disciplinary hearing to determine if Kennedy’s comments constitute professional misconduct was held in January 2005. A decision is expected within several months. If the decision goes against Kennedy, his maximum penalty would be disbarment, however commentators have said he would more likely be given a reprimand or period of suspension.

Newfoundland lawyer accused of misconduct, by Kirk Makin, Globe and Mail, Toronto, January 15, 2005, pg.A12.
Free speech in the public interest, by Michelle Mann, CBC News Viewpoint,  January 24, 2005.