Hat Abuse

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Humor is a dangerous thing. It should not be attempted by amateurs. A judge in Canada has learned this the hard way — he’s been suspended without pay for 30 days for making what he now claims was a little joke.

It probably was, but you never know.

Complaints about the joke poured in, as they tend to do, from all sorts of people who had nothing to do with the judge, and even though no one who had actually been in the judge’s courtroom said anything bad about him, a hearing panel of the Ontario Judicial Council felt compelled to impose the suspension.

At this point, if you don’t already know, you’re wondering what this piece of humor might have been. It consisted of briefly wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat for a little while in court just after the election last fall.


Hardly anyone would have known or cared about this, except that for some reason the local newspaper decided to run a story about it a few days later.


I’ve been a reporter for a regular newspaper before and I know what this is like — you’re not allowed to simply say what happened. You’ve got to quote self-proclaimed “experts” who usually know less than you do.

I’m not saying this is what happened here, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Anyhow, the news story, according to the hearing panel ruling, reported that the “legal director of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund had expressed serious concerns that Justice Zabel had associated himself with Trump’s campaign.”

The Judicial Council then got 81 complaints – but “none of the complaints came from any of the people in Justice Zabel’s court.”

So, naturally, almost a year after the offending joke, the Council felt compelled to suspend the judge for a month. I guess that means no one could possibly think the guy is biased if he’s been on vacation.

The judge, said the ruling, has also “attempted to take a course on judicial ethics.” This may be because he missed the class on hat-wearing while in law school.

There are some interesting lessons to be learned from this. First off, at least in Canada, it’s clearly unethical to be associated with the current president of the United States.

Said the ruling: “We are satisfied that Justice Zabel does not hold any of the discriminatory views that the complainants attribute to Donald Trump.”

That’s a standard that should be widely applied.

Second, there’s this from the ruling: “But reality also matters.” Apparently, reality is defined by how many people complain as opposed to what actually happened.

Reality is a fluid concept.

Third, and most important: Judge the room. If they’re not laughing, you’re in trouble.


Reconsideration. I was roaming the Internet last week when I spotted this on the American Bar Association site:

I think that means number 3 was the first thought.


Turn of phrase. There are a lot of interesting literary stylings in lawsuits that don’t get the readership they deserve.

Fortunately, I’m willing to share (in an occasional series I’ll call “Turn of Phrase”). This is from a recent Los Angeles Superior Court complaint (BC674915) that demonstrates the technique of comparing something to something that’s not all like it:

“Peering through the hole the sight that greeted the contractor was far from what Lord Carnarvon described as ‘wondrous things’ when peering to the tomb of King Tut. The contractor was repulsed when seeing ‘horrible things’ peering into what was the tomb of a dried up rotting mother possum and three of her remaining dried up rotting babies.”

I’m guessing the possums weren’t Egyptian either.

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