A judge who wore a “Make America Great Again” hat in an Ontario courtroom has been reprimanded with a 30-day suspension without pay.
The Canadian Press reports that the Ontario Judicial Council brought down the decision Tuesday. Justice Bernd Zabel was wearing the MAGA ball cap on Nov. 9 — as then-president elect Donald Trump was celebrating his victory over Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.
Concerned that support for Trump might be toxic for the Canadian judicial process, the council said it “was satisfied that members of vulnerable groups need have no fear about the treatment they would receive from Justice Zabel.”
Zabel said he was only trying to “lighten things up” when he wore the campaign hat into a Hamilton, Ontario courtroom.
The judicial council didn’t take the matter that lightly, saying the conduct warranted a severe reprimand, even if it didn’t think Zabel should be removed from his office.
The council described Zabel’s headgear as a “single aberrant and inexplicable act of judicial misconduct” in an otherwise sterling career.
Zabel hasn’t even been permitted to hear a case since January.
When he appeared before the council, Zabel said he didn’t realize that some would construe his wearing the MAGA hat as a blanket declaration of support for the Trump presidency.
“Justice Zabel’s conduct that day gave rise to a perception by many that he was a Trump supporter and that he agreed with Trump’s views and policies. In doing so, he violated a fundamental principle of judicial ethics and, particularly in view of the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s campaign, engaged in serious misconduct,” the council explained in its decision.
It continued, “His conduct on Nov. 9, 2016 was completely at odds with the exemplary judge he has been for the past 27 years. We are satisfied that Justice Zabel does not hold any of the discriminatory views that the complainants attribute to Donald Trump.”
Zabel’s choice of hat prompted 81 people to complain to the council.