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January 30, 2008

Judge Makes HIV-Positive Witness Wear Surgical Mask in Court

An judge in Ontario, Canada, asked an HIV-positive witness to wear a surgical mask while testifying in a sexual assault case, and later moved the case to a larger courtroom to maximize the distance between the witness stand and the bench, Ontario news website The Star reports (thestar.com, 1/30).

According to the article, Justice Jon-Jo Douglas said that the unnamed witness—who also has hepatitis C—was a threat to himself and his courtroom staff, who handled documents touched by the witness with rubber gloves and placed them in plastic bags.

“The HIV virus will live in a dried state for year after year after year and only needs moisture to reactivate himself,” the article said Douglas incorrectly announced per a November 23 trial transcript. When counsel Karen McCleave tried to correct him, Douglas responded, “I mean, he speaks within two feet of me with two serious infections... Either you mask your witness and/or move us to another courtroom or we do not proceed.”

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network responded to Douglas’s assertions with a January 17 letter of complaint, which called his actions “a particularly extreme example of unacceptable conduct by a judicial officer.”

While Douglas has refused requests to declare the case a mistrial, a new trial is scheduled to begin February 14.


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