Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Top Judge Said Naming Courthouse for Danny Williams Was Inappropriate

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Top Judge Said Naming Courthouse for Danny Williams Was Inappropriate

Article excerpt

Danny Williams courthouse caused concern


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A top Newfoundland and Labrador judge raised concerns before a new courthouse was named after former premier Danny Williams, saying the move was inappropriate.

David Orsborn was acting chief justice of the provincial Supreme Court's trial division when he wrote the letter dated Aug. 12 to then-premier Tom Marshall.

It was released this week during proceedings related to an ongoing defamation case involving Williams and political blogger Brad Cabana, who provided it to The Canadian Press.

"It is one thing to name a building after a deceased public servant," Orsborn wrote.

"It is another matter to name a building after an individual who is only recently departed from government, who remains in the public eye and who is, I suggest, still identified by many with government."

Orsborn said the plan to name the courthouse in Corner Brook, on the west coast of Newfoundland, could be perceived as an indication of gratitude. He compared it to how schools and hospital wings are often named for major benefactors.

"But a school or hospital wing is not a courthouse," Orsborn wrote. "They are not facilities in which disputes between government and individuals are adjudicated by an independent body.

"The perception of any linkage or relationship between the court and a living individual is problematic."

Orsborn said he was not aware of any other courthouse in Canada named after a politician who had recently served.

He said his concerns were compounded by the fact that Williams, a former lawyer and entrepreneur who left politics in 2010 to resume his business interests, could have matters before the very court that bears his name.

He stressed that "it is not beyond the realm of possibility that within the building there could be conducted litigation that involves either the individual or government as parties or, in this case, the individual appearing as counsel."

Orsborn then refers to a conversation with Marshall, who retired in September.

"You made it clear yesterday that government has already made its decision," he wrote.

Orsborn urged Marshall to change course.

"The clear separation of the various branches of government is important to society; the perception of that separation is just as important and I would urge you to have your government reconsider this decision."

Orsborn, now serving as a supernumerary or part-time judge, declined through an assistant to comment as the matter is before court.

He stressed in his letter to Marshall that he was speaking on behalf of the provincial Supreme Court trial division only.

Almost four weeks later, on Sept. 8, members of the Progressive Conservative government christened the Corner Brook law courts the Danny Williams Building.

Marshall said at the time it was to honour all that the former premier had accomplished. …

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