Judge Bernd Zabel expressed “profound regret” over the incident when he appeared before an Ontario Judicial Council disciplinary panel last month.
“It was ill-considered, ill-thought-out, and I’ve obviously learned a lot from that,” he told the panel.
Zabel, who has worked as a judge in Ontario for almost three decades, wore the hat into the Hamilton courtroom the day after the US presidential election. He said he had bought several MAGA hats as historical memorabilia, not as a Trump supporter. Wearing one of the iconic red hats that day was an attempt to “add a bit of humour” to proceedings, despite warnings from two other judges that it would be inappropriate.
After a Globe and Mail story about Zabel’s MAGA hat, the Ontario Judicial Council received 81 complaints, including from several lawyers’ associations. The “common theme” of the complaints, according to the disciplinary panel, was that Donald Trump had expressed misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and anti-Muslim attitudes, and that people from those targeted groups would have reason to worry about being treated impartially in Zabel’s courtroom.
In its decision, the OJC panel found that Zabel had a “lengthy and stellar record of service” marred by “a single and inexplicable” act of judicial misconduct.
Zabel has been suspended from his judicial duties since December. The additional 30-day suspension without pay is the harshest sanction available short of removing him from office.