Judge Bernd Zabel, a judge in Hamilton, Ontario, has been suspended for 30 days in response to him wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball hat in court, the morning after Donald Trump won the U.S election last November.
The official decision from the Ontario Judicial Council cites a “breach of the standards of judicial conduct” as the reason for both a reprimand, and a suspension. This 30-day, unpaid suspension is the second most serious punishment the Council can impose. In fact, the only sanction more severe is a full dismissal.
Such a serious punishment stems from a large string of complaints regarding Zabels conduct that poured in after he wore the hat in court on November 9th of last year. In total, 81 complaints have been filed against Zavel, the most common issue was an “unacceptable expression of partisan political views by a judge.”
The complainants seemed very concerned that by wearing the hat, Zabel was associating himself with “many of the things Trump said during his campaign” that many felt were “misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and anti-Muslim.” This perceived association caused worry that the Justice would not treat “women and members of various vulnerable groups . . . fairly and impartially.”
However, not all is lost for Zabel. In addition to the complaints, Zabel has received some support in the form of 63 letters written by various members of both the justice system and the general public. According to the official decision, Judge Zabel has been “praised for his hard work, professionalism, [and] integrity,” as well as making note of his 27 years serving as Justice. During his entire career, this incident is the first time he has been the subject of an Ontario Judicial Council hearing. Considering his spotless decades of service, Professor Duff Conacher, of the University of Ottawa, said that the penalty is appropriate.
According to testimony from his disciplinary hearing last month, he does not support the U.S. president. Zabel apologized for the event, claiming he was intending to make people laugh. The Judge went on to say “[t]he man depicted in those complaints is not me . . . I’m not a racist, I’m not a bigot, I’m not a misogynist.”
Despite his claims, many people feel that the incident shows the contrary to be true. Because actions truly do speak louder than words, it will be up to Zabel to prove himself once his suspension is finally over.