Thursday, September 7, 2000

Wojtek Dabrowski
Canadian Press

Police alleged northern Ontario judges solicited sex; court documents

TORONTO (CP) — The bizarre case of a former assistant Crown attorney convicted of soliciting sex from teenage prostitutes took an even more unusual twist Wednesday. Court documents allege judges and other prominent citizens of the northern Ontario community of Thunder Bay were spotted picking up hookers as well. Agnew Johnston, 45, was found guilty in 1996 of trying to buy sex from underage prostitutes in Thunder Bay. He was sentenced to five months in jail.

On Wednesday, documents filed by Johnston's lawyer during an appeal of the conviction revealed a local police constable testified under oath that he had seen some of the city's most prominent citizens trying to buy sex from local prostitutes. Const. Andre Lichtenfeld said in court in June of 1996 and in an affidavit filed in March of that year that Thunder Bay police knew of highly placed locals, including members of the judiciary, who had solicited prostitutes. But, in his deposition, Lichtenfeld said there wasn't enough evidence to lay charges against any of the individuals involved.

Johnston's lawyer at the time, Peter Ross, introduced Lichtenfeld's allegations while trying to suggest his client was being unfairly singled out for prosecution in a community where others were committing similar offences. Ross argued that the charges against Johnston should be thrown out.

Judge Frank Sargent, who heard the Johnston trial in Thunder Bay, had originally ruled that Lichtenfeld's evidence was not enough, and the trial went on. One of the underage hookers Johnston was involved with also alleged that two provincial judges working in Thunder Bay had solicited sex from her, the Crown's appeal summary states. Police investigated the implicated individuals, who denied the accusations. No charges were laid.

Still, the judge ruled the trial would proceed. The shocking allegations were filed in court in 1996, but did not immediately surface because they were part of pre-trial evidence. The already unusual case, which centered around sex, power and money, added another surprising element Wednesday.

The Ontario Court of Appeal heard Johnston's conviction should be overturned because the original trial judge had threatened Johnston's original lawyer. According to the evidence, the trial judge said Ross would never practice law again in Thunder Bay if any judges were called to testify in the Johnston case.

Ross, who died in 1998, told several of his colleagues that he had been threatened, affidavits show, but Sargent has testified he never threatened Ross. "That never happened," Sargent said during questioning by the Crown and the defence in December 1999.

Ross asked Johnston to fire him as his counsel because he felt he now had a conflict. But Johnston, facing a legal-fee debt of $52,000, wasn't in a position to change lawyers and the trial continued, Alan Gold who represents Johnston now, told a three-judge appeal panel Wednesday. Gold told the court Sargent's comments to Ross and the resulting stress caused Ross to become "impaired" as a lawyer. That, Gold said, was a "stain on (Johnston's) trial."

Gold said a sentence more appropriate than jail for Johnston would be probation and counselling for alcohol addiction. But James Ramsay, who represented the Crown, said Johnston deserved to go to jail since he has been convicted of exploiting teenage girls for sex. The ruling on Johnston's appeal is expected within the next few weeks. Johnston, who was not in court Wednesday, initially denied soliciting sex from underage hookers, but pleaded guilty at trial. After his conviction in 1996, he was fired from his job as an assistant Crown attorney.

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Created: November 25, 2000
Last modified: January 19, 2001
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