When making faces can get you into hot water

Whether you’re allowed to make faces in court depends on where you’re sitting, according to a law professor, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 22. If you’re a lawyer trying the case and sitting at the defence’s or prosecutor’s table, it’s acceptable. If you’re the judge on the bench, it’s not. And if you’re anybody in the gallery, it could get you in a lot of trouble.

“If you’re the actual lawyer cross-examining a witness you can certainly communicate – using body language or your face – what you think of the evidence,” said Jonathan Rosenthal, co-director of trial practice at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “That’s fair game. But what is not fair game is for someone who is sitting as a spectator in the courtroom to do that. And a Crown attorney ought to know better.”

Rosenthal, who teaches trial skills to lawyers and students in Canada and the US, couldn’t recall ever hearing of an incident similar to the one in the Mendieta case, where a Crown attorney is accused of making faces while sitting among the spectators. He described the alleged incident as “repugnant” and “indefensible” and noted that lawyers are expected to “treat the court and the process with the greatest of respect.”

The professor said a judge would not allow even a member of the general public, never mind a lawyer, to grimace or gesticulate in the court gallery during a trial. Anyone doing so would be told to stop and perhaps ordered out of the courtroom. The possibility that the lawyer accused in this incident was accustomed to being at the prosecutor’s table and simply forgot himself makes no difference, Rosenthal maintained. “If he couldn’t help himself, he shouldn’t be there, because anyone who’s involved in the criminal justice system knows what effect their behaviour could have on a juror, and the best evidence of that is the fact that a judge had to declare a mistrial in a murder case because of something like this.”

Rosenthal said the case was particularly troubling in light of the fact that in Canada a Crown attorney is supposed to be a “minister of justice” rather than just a prosecutor who wants to win cases. “I think the Law Society could discipline him. I think the attorney general could discipline him. I think it would certainly be grounds to dismiss someone, in my opinion, if they, while sitting as a spectator, attempted to influence the proceedings. And I think the judge could cite them for contempt.”

  • Erika Mendieta was charged with murder in 2005. Her first trial, last year, ended with a hung jury, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 23. Experts say it’s unlikely Mendieta, 34, can reasonably expect a third trial to be fair.

“It’s subject to the law of diminishing returns,” said Alan Young, a Professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “Each successive trial has the potential to become less reliable…. It’s very important in law to get it right the first time around,” he said, noting that the United Kingdom has a strict policy to cut it off after two trials, whereas Canada assesses it on a case-by-case basis.

Prostitution laws in effect past deadline

Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Alan Young told reporters he’s never seen a case “where the court stayed a judgment where the judgment said the law is hurting people,” wrote the Toronto Sun Nov. 22, in a story about a federal application to the Ontario Court of Appeal to extend the stay of a Sept. 28 decision on Canada’s prostitution laws.

“I’m actually sick and tired of hearing the government talk about trafficked women and underaged children as if we don’t care about those issues,” Young said. “We care about those issues and I actually think we’re helping.”

Provincial Crown attorney Shelley Hallett said a street youth worker is aware of former pimps returning to the trade because they believe pimping is now legal. There is “an alarming trend that suggests there is a free-for-all coming” in the absence of ancillary legislation necessary with the “de facto” decriminalization handed down, Hallett said.

Young slammed that statement as “speculative and anecdotal evidence.”

  • Young also spoke about the case, on CBC Television (Toronto) Nov. 22.

New Finch West subway design on display

The TTC will unveil its final design for Finch West Station at an open house Thursday, Nov. 25, wrote InsideToronto.com Nov. 22.

Finch West, located at Keele Street and Finch Avenue, is one of six new stations that will be built along the 8.6-kilometre Spadina subway extension from Downsview [through York University] to Vaughan. Service on the $2.6-billion line is scheduled to begin in 2015.

The main entrance to the new Finch West station will be on the northwest corner of Keele and Finch, according to a conceptual design approved earlier this year.

Across the street, a bus terminal with an automatic entrance will be built on Keele just north of Finch. A 370-space parking lot will be built north of the terminal in the hydro corridor. (A larger 1,900-space parking lot is scheduled to be built at Steeles West Station, which will be located at Northwest Gate and Steeles Avenue above York University.)

A picture of the final design for Finch West’s main entrance included on the TTC’s website shows a colourfully striped, single-storey structure in a park setting.

The open house takes place from 6:30 to 8:30pm at the University City Recreation Centre, 453 Sentinel Rd.

Southlake specialist is dedicated to learning

Dr. Barry Nathanson is working to fill the gaps he experienced while training in the medical field, wrote York Region.com Nov. 22. The internal medicine and critical care specialist at Southlake Regional Health Centre has been recognized by the Rural Ontario Medical Program as new teacher of the year for the dedication and commitment he has shown during the hospital’s transition to a teaching facility.

He started his postsecondary studies at Yeshiva University in New York and graduated from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem with an English literature degree. He returned to Canada to study molecular biology at York University, chemistry at Memorial University in Newfoundland and then went off to medical school.

Rave from the grave

Ines Markeljevic travelled the world teaching people how to do the dance from Michael Jackson’s "Thriller", wrote the National Post Nov. 23. Why? Because on Oct. 24, 2009, 22,596 people in 264 cities from 33 countries did the popular dance at the same time, earning them a new Guinness World Record. The first record was set in 2006 at York University, featuring a mere 62 zombies.

On air

  • Martin Lockshin, a professor in York’s Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies, spoke about the "Book of Exodus", on CBC Radio’s “Ideas” Nov. 22.