Judge Cosgrove to draw $170,000 pension after resignation
Pay during judge’s legal fight was $260,000 per year
After resigning Thursday under threat of being fired by the federal government, Ontario Superior Court Judge Paul Cosgrove will collect close to his full pension, worth about $170,000 a year.
During the five-year legal battle that surrounded the inquiry into his competence as a judge, Cosgrove has also been collecting his regular annual salary of $260,000.
For about 18 months — from mid-2004 to the end of 2005 — Cosgrove was on leave with pay. After a successful challenge regarding the constitutionality of part of the case against him, Cosgrove returned to work.
However, he has not been allowed to deal with criminal matters or conduct a trial.
Cosgrove’s mishandling of the 1998 trial of Julia Elliott, a Barbados masseuse accused of first-degree murder in the death of Kemptville mechanic Lawrence Foster — a crime for which she eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter — led Ontario’s attorney general to request an inquiry into the competence of the judge.
Earlier this week, the Canadian Judicial Council recommended to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson that Cosgrove be discharged. That would have required agreement from the House of Commons and the Senate; but if successful, Cosgrove would have been the first federally appointed judge ever to be fired in Canada.
Being the test-case for that procedure was not a risk Cosgrove was willing to take.
“Nobody’s been there,” Cosgrove said in an interview Friday. “There’s no process. It hasn’t happened before. Would it be before a joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate? Would it be before the Senate and then the House of Commons? It’s a process that has no definition.
“I would be very reluctant to take a case that has 20,000 pages of evidence into that process.”
He also wasn’t up for appealing the CJC decision to Federal Court
“The process wouldn’t have been completed by the time I retired, so that wouldn’t have been productive,” Cosgrove said.
Indeed, his proximity to the mandatory retirement age of 75 was one of the reasons Cosgrove gave for his decision to resign, but not because his pension was in jeopardy — at least not technically.
Even if he had been dismissed by Parliament, Cosgrove would still have been eligible for his pension. Under the Judges Act, a judge begins collecting “an annuity … on the day of his or her resignation, removal or attaining the age of retirement.”
Cosgrove was concerned about the timing of his resignation or retirement. Judges have the option of retiring early any time after 65, although their pensions would be pro-rated. At age 75, judges receive their full pensions, which is two-thirds their annual salary of $260,000.
“With me now nine months away from (retirement), it is not significant,” Cosgrove said of the slight reduction in his pension.
He is keenly aware, however, that should he be removed by the government, his question of his pension could easily become politicized.
“As to whether I should risk going to Parliament and having the issue of pension become part of the process, again because there’s no clear law on it, I wouldn’t want to risk it,” he said.
Cosgrove said he is relieved to put the decade-old ordeal behind him.
“I’m tired,” said the judge, who has twice apologized for his errors in judgment. “I have no plans. I’m busy, though — we have a large family: four kids, 10 grandchildren.”
Cosgrove also plans to continue being involved in the Brockville community, where he lives.
“For the last 24 years, twice a year, I have organized and managed a mock jury trial for six high schools. And given the opportunity, I’m going to continue doing that.”