"They say the next big thing is here,
that the revolution's near,
but to me it seems quite clear
that it's all just a little bit of history repeating."
- From the song "History Repeating," by The Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey
"We will not go down this road again if there is any way I can prevent it at all. There's some real lessons to be learned in this. Protocols will certainly be tightened up as a result of it."
That sounds like Justice Minister Tom Marshall commenting on the resignation of former judge Don Singleton, doesn't it?
Singleton was compelled to give up his plum provincial court judgeship this week before he'd even had time to don his court robes, when it was discovered he hadn't disclosed a 1990 drunk-driving conviction on his record. Two other DUI charges from the late 1980s did not result in convictions; one was dismissed, the other withdrawn.
He'd only held the job since Dec. 23 and hadn't even heard any cases - he was supposed to take his place on the bench in Grand Falls-Windsor on Feb. 9.
Singleton did disclose that he was convicted in 2005 for illegally buying duty-free alcohol, even though he received an absolute discharge in that case, which means the conviction doesn't appear on his criminal record.
Because the judicial council that vets applicants for provincial court judgeships doesn't routinely check the criminal records of judicial candidates, Singleton's failure to disclose his 1990 conviction might never have been discovered if journalists hadn't been interested in the well-known Tory supporter's appointment to provincial court.
CBC reporter David Cochrane was the first to break the news. As a result, criminal record checks will become a routine part of the judicial vetting process now that the so-called "honour system" has been shown not to work so well, particularly if a candidate's honour is debatable.
And the quote at the beginning of this column?
While it may sound like something you'd have expected the justice minister to say in light of the Singleton controversy, those words were actually uttered by the then-innovation minister, Kathy Dunderdale, in October 2005 after the media discovered flaws in other government protocols where the public should have been able to reasonably expect that due diligence was being done.
In that case, The Telegram's Rob Antle had revealed several instances where simple background checks on companies that received government aid would have shown they had dubious reputations, if the government had bothered to do its homework.
In the wake of the newspaper's revelations, the government beefed up its background checks of firms looking for grants or attempting to qualify for government incentive programs.
Then, as in the Singleton affair, it was the diligence of the media which prompted procedural reform.
And then, as now, it was patently obvious that this government needs to work harder at getting its ducks in a row.
"Mr. Singleton's professional abilities and his life experience make him well suited for his new role as a judge of the provincial court," Justice Minister Tom Marshall said in the Dec. 23 news release announcing the appointment.
"I have every confidence that he will exercise sound judgment in the cases that appear before him."
Given Singleton's failure to disclose his drunk-driving conviction, I'm not sure I'd agree with Marshall that he was "well-suited" to be a judge, despite his protestations that the criminal conviction merely slipped his mind. Surely anyone with a penchant for handing out justice would have remembered their own brushes with the system.
And did we mention the fact that Singleton has only been a lawyer for 11 years? According to the provincial government, 10 years' experience is enough to become a judge. Here at The Telegram, that amount of service will just about get you four weeks' vacation.
What is passing strange about the Danny Williams administration is its determination to act hastily based on poor information, and its inability to make wise choices based on good information and sound recommendations.
Funny thing is, the outcome of all these choices is the same: embarrassment.
In 2004, the government entered into a joint-venture agreement with a Sino Energy consortium to possibly develop the Lower Churchill, and The Telegram discovered the company had been sanctioned by the U.S. State Department for potentially violating chemical and biological weapons laws.
In 2008, the government refuses the recommendation of the presidential search committee at Memorial University - raising questions about university autonomy - and winds up damaging the reputation of MUN which, incidentally, continues to be run quite ably in an acting capacity by one of the very presidential candidates the government rejected.
In 2009, the government appoints a judge without thoroughly checking his references, and now finds itself looking for another candidate.
Does anyone see a pattern here?
In November, in announcing the province's new "have" status, Danny Williams boasted that the era of Newfie jokes was now past us.
Sadly, given this latest blunder, it seems his government is intent on perpetuating them.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.
"They say the next big thing is here,
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