An Ontario judge who wore a hat in court bearing a slogan used by U.S. President Donald Trump is facing a disciplinary hearing today.
Justice Bernd Zabel is before an Ontario Judicial Council panel in Toronto to face allegations of judicial misconduct over the November 2016 incident.
The council says it's alleged Zabel wore a baseball cap with the slogan "Make America Great Again" in court on Nov. 9 — the day after Trump won the U.S. election — and made comments about the election, "his views and those of his judicial colleagues."
Zabel later apologized publicly for his behaviour, calling it a "lapse in judgment," but the council says it's alleged his statement "was not consistent with comments he made in court" on the day of the incident.
Zabel's lawyer, Ricardo Federico, says his client made the "biggest mistake of his judicial career" when he wore the hat, but maintained the judge did not intend to make a political statement.
"Justice Zabel wore the hat for less than one minute...it was a joke," he told the panel. "He will never wear that hat in court again."
An agreed statement of facts shows Zabel admits his actions were contrary to the standard of conduct expected of a judge and constitute judicial misconduct.
The judicial council says it received 81 complaints about Zabel's behaviour on that day. If Zabel is found guilty, the panel may impose a number of sanctions or recommend he lose his job.
The Ontario Court of Justice said in January that Zabel, who is based in Hamilton, was no longer being assigned cases.
A Hamilton city councillor, who said the incident raised concerns about Zabel's impartiality in the courtroom, has called for the judge to step down or be removed from the bench.