Judicial council rejects complaint in Sampson case
TORONTO - The Ontario Judicial Council has dismissed a complaint against a judge who awarded custody of seven-year-old Katelynn Sampson to a woman who has been charged with first-degree murder in the girl's death.
The death of Katelynn, whose battered body was discovered by police in August, sparked public outrage and a provincial review of how courts handle child custody cases.
Justice Debra Paulseth of the Ontario Court of Justice granted custody of the girl to Donna Irving with the blessing of Katelynn's mother, Bernice Sampson, who was battling drug addiction.
Irving and her common-law partner Warren Johnson were charged with first-degree murder in Katelynn's death.
Court transcripts revealed that few questions were asked about Irving, who had a criminal record for drugs, prostitution and violence.
That prompted NDP justice critic Peter Kormos to file a complaint with the judicial council, accusing Paulseth of failing to consider the best interests of the child.
But the council rejected the allegation, saying Paulseth did "make inquiries" about Irving, including how long Katelynn's mother had known the woman.
There was also "no indication or suggestion that the child was in peril or that her best interests were not being met while being cared for" by Irving, the council said Wednesday in a five-page letter to Kormos.
The court record disclosed that "all indications in this case were that the child was being kept out of harm's way by being placed with the proposed custodial parent, the mother's friend," the council said.
The council dismissed the complaint "at the earliest opportunity, without seeking a response from the judge," Ontario Court of Justice spokesman Kirby Chown said Thursday in a statement.
"The judge is extremely saddened by the little girl's death."
Paulseth was not removed from duty during the investigation and will remain in family court, Chown added.
Six members of the council -- three judges, a lawyer and two "community members" -- reviewed the complaint.
The group looked at court transcripts, listened to a recording of the proceedings and reviewed the court file, Chown said.
Ontario's child advocate, Irwin Elman, joined the public outcry in the wake of Katelynn's death, saying protections put in place to help children like her "all failed."
Police said the third-grader slept on a bedroom floor and showed signs of being assaulted on an ongoing basis.
One homicide detective called the state of Katelynn's body "probably the worst thing I've seen in 20 years of policing."
Last month, Attorney General Chris Bentley introduced family law reforms that were prompted in part by Katelynn's death.
The changes will ensure that courts know if a potential caregiver has a violent history when making decisions about transferring custody of a child to anyone who is not their parent.
Under the new rules, anyone who applies for custody of a child would have to complete a sworn statement that would include a proposal for how they would care for the child.
Non-parents would have to submit a police records check and tell the court about any Children's Aid Society records. Judges would also have access to information about any other family law case the non-parent was involved in.