Tourist complains about ‘bullying’ judge
A Canadian woman who says an Invercargill judge bullied her into pleading guilty, will make a formal complaint about him.
Heather Gleason-Beard says she mostly wanted to put the court case behind her, but she also wanted to ensure it didn’t happen to anyone else. Her conviction was quashed for injuring a man in a Queenstown bar with reckless disregard for his safety, after the Court of Appeal found a miscarriage of justice had occurred. Despite Judge Mark Callaghan having good intentions, Gleason-Beard’s guilty plea was the result of the judge’s intervention which overbore her decision and the right to have a jury decide the case, the court found.
Gleason-Beard, 26, was charged after an incident on July 9, 2017, in a Queenstown bar when she took offence at comments made by another patron about the size of her breasts.
She said she had intended to just throw the contents of her drink at him, but the glass connected with his face and cut his top lip. He did not want medical treatment but said his tooth was chipped.
On the morning Gleason-Beard’s trial was due to start in the Invercargill District Court on charges including wounding with intent to injure, in a private session the judge persisted in saying he doubted she had a defence.
Without credit for a guilty plea, Gleason-Beard was likely to go to jail, the judge said.
She felt bullied and ended up pleading guilty to a less serious charge to avoid the possibility of jail, and was sentenced to 100 hours community work and to pay $5000 to the man who was cut. She completed the sentence before she returned to Canada in May.
The Court of Appeal found the guilty plea was the result of the judge’s intervention.
The transgression was particularly serious, given the lawyer’s efforts to resist the judge’s approach, the Court of Appeal said.
Gleason-Beard said she would write to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner about Judge Callaghan’s court.
A spokesman for Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said she was unable to comment if the matter was the subject of a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner. The commissioner receives and assesses complaints about judges, but cannot affect the legality or correctness of a judge’s decision on any proceedings.
The number of complaints dropped from 177 in 2017 to 154 for the year ended July 2018, but complaints about District Court judges rose from 57 to 76.
The commissioner’s report noted a spotlight on judge’s bullying behaviour towards lawyers, but said such complaints were few and far between but not unheard of.
Before 2018 some bullying complaints were referred to the head judge of the court concerned.
In a speech in 2017, the country’s top judge, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, had questioned whether judges were rushing to get guilty pleas ahead of the interests of justice.
She acknowledged the savings in time and cost if guilty pleas were entered early, and reduced sentences were an inducement.
But she cautioned against ‘‘inaccuracy’’ in guilty pleas due to a calculation of risk or simply to put an end to uncertainty.
Judge Mark Callaghan