Court Cases & Orders

“The Courthouse is Not a Restaurant,” Says Exasperated Judge

court restaurant open
Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

The mother was as self-represented litigant who had “very aggressively” pursued multiple claims against the father, and had filed more than 430 documents since their litigation began almost 10 years earlier. Those documents were part of a long history of numerous motions, appeals and a litany of related procedures to contest virtually every aspect of untangling their former relationship, including settling out child custody and support of their two children.

In advance of one of those many motions, the mother had arbitrarily and on short notice absented herself from a half-day court hearing that had been scheduled for March 1, 2013. Less than a week before the motion she had faxed a letter to the court, indicating that she could not attend.

In the court’s e-mail reply, it advised the mother that an adjournment could not be granted without the father’s input, and that since the father’s lawyer would not consent in advance, she could make the request in person at the scheduled hearing date and take her chances.

Instead, the mother failed to show up at the hearing at all. Nor did she call in. She later claimed that she had mixed her calendar up.

The father asked the court for an order forcing the mother to pay for the legal costs he had wasted in preparing for a motion that she did not even bother to attend.

The court, after concluding that the mother’s excuse for missing the hearing date “stretches credulity past its breaking point”, entertained striking out the mother’s motion outright, but ultimately decided to strike it off the list and impose significant costs against her instead.

In its lengthy rebuke of the mother’s conduct, the court wrote:

In coming to my decision I had to deal with a matter of increasing judicial awareness in Canada, namely how to sanction or impose meaningful consequences on irresponsible and inappropriate behaviour by a litigant.

Adding to the difficulties of this case is the “customer-service” expectations that the mother brings to these proceedings. Unlike a retail environment, where the customer is king, the administration of justice cannot possibly proceed in any meaningful way if litigants adopt a customer-service mentality at the courthouse.

The courthouse is not a restaurant where reservations can be rescheduled at the last minute or simply cancelled on the whim of a litigant. Neither can a litigant pick and choose which procedural rules and time deadlines they wish to comply with. The court must impose sanctions on litigants who behave irresponsibly or recklessly.

The court continued:

The attitude and behaviour that the mother brings to this litigation is troubling as it only increases the intensity of the conflict and creates an environment in which any kind of settlement discussions are impossible.

It must be obvious to the mother, even as an unrepresented litigant, that the time deadlines imposed at the case management meetings for the filing of affidavits and briefs and concluding cross examinations are significant and cannot be casually disregarded on a whim. The mother must have known, or ought to have known, that the father would have already incurred significant legal costs in compliance with those deadlines when she attempted to cancel the March 1, 2013 Hearing on less than five business days notice.

Somehow the mother is also oblivious to the obvious fact that by running up the father’s legal bills she is also depriving her children of potential financial resources.

Moreover the mother somehow expects the court to ignore the fact that her last minute demand for an adjournment would not only have a significant financial impact on the father and the children but also on the court’s time and resources. A half day was reserved for the hearing that she demanded and that time slot was denied to other litigants and made an already backlogged list even longer.

The court has a duty to administer its scarce resources wisely and cannot allow litigants to run roughshod over its own process by ignoring deadlines, the rules of court and capriciously failing to show up at scheduled hearings.

After scrutinizing the costs thrown away, the court ultimately awarded the father $3,000, which it intended as:

… a strong message to the mother that her disregard for the rules of court and the meticulous timelines set out at the case management conferences and her unilateral decision to fail to appear at the March 1, 2013 Hearing are totally unacceptable. This kind of behaviour is simply intolerable and must be sanctioned by the court to protect the integrity of the court process and as a warning to the mother and other litigants that this kind of behaviour will have significant consequences.

What are your thoughts about the court’s admonishments? Do too many litigants approach the justice system with a “customer service” mentality, as the court in this case says?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Delichte v Rogers, [2013] M.J. No. 113, 2013 MBQB 93

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.