Even Judges Get it Wrong Sometimes
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a case called Butty v. Butty. This was a decision by Justice Pazaratz in which he considered how the parties’ separation agreement, which was intended to exempt the husband’s farm property from the normal property-equalization regime, should be interpreted after it came to light that the husband owned two separate parcels of land, rather than one as originally thought.
At trial, Justice Pazaratz had declared the separation agreement invalid, and set it aside for what he concluded was the husband’s failure – and the failure of his lawyer – to disclose the existence of the two properties. The husband’s property was then divided in keeping with the usual Family Law Act rules, notwithstanding what the parties’ separation agreement may have intended.
The husband appealed, successfully. The Court of Appeal disagreed with Justice Pazaratz’s assessment of the facts as to the alleged lack of disclosure, and reversed his ruling. For one thing, it found that the judge had been highly critical of the husband’s trial lawyer, Mr. Jaskot, accusing him of suppressing facts and deliberately misleading the court and opposing counsel. The Appeal Court found these accusations unwarranted, writing:
As we have mentioned, the trial judge believed that Mr. Jaskot tried to hide the fact that there were two separate properties. In his reasons for decision, he describes Mr. Jaskot as having purposely suppressed information in an attempt to mislead opposing counsel and the court into believing that the farm property was a single parcel of land.
In light of the foregoing evidence, this characterization of Mr. Jaskot is completely unfounded. Opposing counsel and the court had documents clearly showing that the farm property consisted of two separate properties.
As a result of the reasons for judgment, Mr. Jaskot has suffered unwarranted personal and professional embarrassment.
And rather than lay blame on the husband’s lawyer for hiding the information, the Appeal Court found that the parties actually shared in the mistaken initial belief that the there was only one piece of property at stake. After noting that Justice Pazaratz could have easily remedied the procedural fallout from the parties’ mutual misapprehension at the trial itself, the Appeal Court said:
This court cannot truly repair the damage that Mr. Jaskot has suffered. Having said that, its comments are intended to serve as an unequivocal statement that there was nothing improper in his conduct in this matter. We regret what appears, on this record, to be unwarranted judicial criticism levied against him.
Next, the Appeal Court found that the parties’ mutual misapprehension did not detract from a key fact: The wife was aware that the separation agreement was designed to circumvent the normal property-division scheme under the Family Law Act, and that she was giving up all her claims to the entire tract of property, whether consisting of one lot or two. The Appeal Court also observed that the wife had not been under duress when she signed the agreement, and had received independent legal advice (which she did not heed) before doing so.
Based on this and other errors by Justice Pazaratz, the Appeal Court restored the parties’ separation agreement, and proceeded to divide their property in accord with its express terms.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Butty v. Butty, 2009 ONCA 852 (CanLII)
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