Monday, February 17, 2014

Jerry Springer Wednesdays at The Manitoba Law Courts ..... "Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!"

Jerry Springer - type feel at Special Court hearing for beefs

Mike McIntyre
Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The 'private prosecutions' docket was a long and lively one during a recent session at The Law Courts Building.

The Christmas break has ended and it's obvious the holiday message about peace on Earth and goodwill toward your fellow man didn't register with those sitting in courtroom 402. But there are certainly plenty of fireworks to ring in the new year - at least of the legal variety.

Judge Theodore Lismer is trying to walk the fine line between showing patience and losing control of his courtroom on this weekday morning as he presides over more than two dozen people who've crammed into the small room to air their grievances.

And unlike most legal procedures, the vast majority is acting as their own lawyers. That means there is plenty of disorder in the court.

It's "private prosecutions" day, a weekly gathering for those who are seeking to lower the legal boom on someone they feel has done them wrong. There are feuding family members. Naughty neighbours. Frayed friendships.

All with the kinds of disputes they certainly are taking seriously, but which police and the Crown have typically already ruled lack sufficient grounds for criminal intervention.

So that leaves them with this route as they seek court intervention to obtain a "peace bond" under Section 810 of the Criminal Code.

Lismer delivers a series of opening instructions to those in the room, explaining how a peace bond is a legally binding court order that prohibits one person from having any contact with the other. To get one, the applicant must show the respondent is causing him or her fear. Any breaches are reported to police. The scofflaw can be charged with a crime.

"It's a preventative measure to promote peace," Lismer explains.

If the respondent consents to the peace-bond application, it's typically smooth sailing. But when they don't, the gloves often come off. So Lismer also begins the session by calling for decorum, although it's clear that will be much easier said than done.

A woman claims her nine-year-old daughter has been subjected to repeated bullying at the hands of a 12-year-old schoolmate. So she has come to court seeking a legal remedy.

But the preteen respondent is nowhere to be found.

"This is the third time she hasn't come. Is there any way we can just go ahead and do the peace bond?" the frustrated applicant asks. "She's constantly coming around our house, giving us the finger, threatening us. It's constant. This kid has no control."

Lismer is reluctant to proceed because of the tender age of the respondent. Instead, he issues a warrant to give police the power to arrest the girl and bring her to court in two weeks.

The applicant notes her own daughter has a learning disability and lacks the tools to properly deal with this alleged bully. Lismer asks if the 12-year-old girl has any issues as well.

"Besides her mom being an alcoholic? I don't know, probably FAS," the applicant replies.

A provincial mediator is always present during these court sessions, ready to assist when both the applicant and the respondent say they are willing to give it a try.

On this day, the mediator reports back to Lismer on a handful of disputes that appear to be moving along and just require a bit more time.

On the flip side, she also rattles off a handful of others that have broken down and will require legal intervention.

"He has no respect for the law!"

The middle-aged Winnipeg man is not very happy that his neighbour - a man he claims has repeatedly threatened and harassed him - has apparently chosen not to attend court.

He filed for a peace bond last year and was expecting a full hearing of the matter today. But the respondent is a no-show.

"He lives five minutes from here. He should be here," the man says.

Lismer is sympathetic but agrees to issue an arrest warrant. Unfortunately, the judge warns, it will likely be late 2014 before they can find another date to have a hearing.

"He might kill me before then. He's a bad guy," the man says.

Ask any veteran Winnipeg lawyer or judge about private prosecutions and you will be treated to a barrage of bizarre tales.

A custody battle over a cappuccino maker. A food fight involving mashed potatoes. The list is endless.

There is definitely a Jerry Springer-type element to these cases, due largely to the personal nature of the issues and the lack of polished lawyers.

Many of the applicants and respondents forgo a lawyer because of financial issues or the belief this will be a simple procedure, so why waste the money?

However, Legal Aid representatives are always on standby and will jump in with basic, free advice for those wanting it. It's an attempt to at least bring some control to what can resemble a three-ring circus.

She has drawn a line in the sand. Or, more accurately, the grass. Yet a Winnipeg man claims his neighbour continues to invade his property, despite clearly being told where it begins and ends.

"I spent $800 on a survey of my property. He continues to trespass. He assaulted me... " the woman begins.

"OK, this isn't a hearing today," Lismer intervenes. He agrees to the respondent's request to a brief adjournment to allow him to consider whether he wants to consent to the peace bond or fight it.

A similar request is made in a similar case later in the morning, involving feuding neighbours. But the applicant, a middle-aged woman, isn't impressed by what she feels are the respondent's delay tactics.

"This is the third time we've appeared in court. I think he's playing some games," the woman says.

"No I'm not," the man shouts back.

Lismer reluctantly agrees to adjourn the case but warns there will be no further delays.

"I share your frustration," Lismer tells the woman. It's the type of statement that is all too common when this type of court is in session.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2014.


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