| August 20, 2010
THE LAWYERS WEEKLY
N E W S
Already a trailblazer as Can-ada’s first openly gay judge andthe country’s — if not the world’s — first sitting judge to write a book about the family jus-tice system for the general public,Ontario Justice Harvey Brown-stone, of the North TorontoFamily Court, is hoping to catchtalk-show queen Oprah Winfrey’sattention with his latest venture.The 54-year-old, 15-year vet-eran of the Ontario Court of Justice and author of the 2009Canadian best-seller
Tug of War: A Judge’s Verdict on Separation,Custody Battles, and the Bitter Realities of Family Court
, isthe host of a new Web-TV pro-gram called,
(www.familymatterstv.com), which will focus on the “inter-play between relationships andthe justice system,” according tothe website.“We’re going to tackle the realissues that we’re seeing in courtevery day that nobody otherwisetalks about,” says Brownstone, who marks another first as theonly active judge — perhaps on theplanet — to host a talk show.His new gig resulted from anidea he first discussed in May 2009 with Nancy Kinney, the Vic-toria-based president and founderof AdviceScene Enterprises Inc.,about creating a TV program onthe Web devoted to law-relatedissues. Kinney, who holds a lawdegree from the University of Vic-toria but never practised law, hadalready tapped Brownstone toprovide information on family lawon her popular website, AdviceS-cene.com, which lists lawyers inCanada and the United States andhas them sharing their legalexpertise for free.Before approaching Brown-stone, Kinney had floated her ideaabout an online show past two judges in British Columbia.“They didn’t even answermy voice or email messages,”she recalls.“It takes a certain type of per-son who really gets how things arereally changing now.”Enter Brownstone, who hadalready amassed a public profileas a result of widespread mediaattention and speaking engage-ments following the release of his book. He’s also a firm believer that judges — particularly those withthe Family Court who are involvedin an area of the law that impactsmore people, especially children,than any other — have an educat-ing role to play beyond the bench.“The hunger out there for basicinformation about all aspects of the justice system is huge.”Besides, Brownstone always wanted to host his own talk show.“But I can’t be Harvey on theshow, I have to be Judge Brown-stone,” says the budding onlinestar, who admits that “Harvey would be a little more compelling”in front of the cameras.“I don’t think there’s a need fora family-court version of JudgeJudy. When you’re a sitting judge, you cannot compromise your neu-trality and impartiality on any topic that might come before youin court, whether it involves a pol-itical issue or an individual case,”explains Brownstone.So unlike Judge Judy, whoarbitrates disputes between par-ties paid to appear on the TV show, Brownstone will neitherrender decisions nor offer per-sonal opinions about anything.He will only ask questions and bring guests on the show “toenlighten and educate the publicabout a variety of issuesregarding parenting and familiesand relationships.” As he explains: “I’m modelingmyself after people like DavidFrost and Dick Cavett in doing in-depth interviews to educate ratherthan someone like Dr. Phil, whooffers therapy on his show.”“I am acutely aware that every-thing I do is a reflection of the judiciary. I want to be a positiveambassador for the court and want the court to be proud of meand see me as someone who isenhancing access to justice.”FamilyMattersTV.com already has a few episodes posted (that were taped at a rented studio inToronto), including one on calcu-lating child support (also avail-able as a $15 DVD for law firmsto give clients) and another fea-turing two lawyers (KatinaKavassalis and Dan Goldberg)from Ontario’s Office of the Chil-dren’s Lawyer — a governmentlaw office unique in the world.In the future, the show willlook at such issues as Internetdating and how people “who are worlds apart physically…arehooking up,” sometimes resultingin a child, says Brownstone.Often, the unions fizzle out asquickly as they began and theadults return to the Net to beginanother cyber-courtship.“The reason it matters to usin Family Court is that we’re see-ing an explosion of mobility cases involving a person whocame to Canada from anothercountry and wants to go back with the child — and those arethe most difficult cases we’re see-ing,” explains Brownstone, whoadds that he and his fellowFamily Court judges are also wit-nessing a rise in people allegingimmigration fraud.“Someone claims to have fallenin love over the Internet withsomebody who just wanted to getto Canada, and as soon as they getresidency, they’re gone.”“This stuff is making a hugeimpact in Family Court.”He also plans to address theproblem of online addictions where people are spending count-less hours surfing the Web forporn or gambling, and sacrificing,if not losing, their families,finances and even jobs as a result.It won’t be all about Internet-related subjects, though. Episodesare planned to look at adoption,parenting after separation anddivorce, grandparent’s rights,multicultural relationships, youngcriminal justice and mental healthissues, substance abuse, and whathappens to pets following a breakup (Brownstone’s veterinar-ian-husband will appear on theshow) — to name a few topics.Kinney has even bigger plansfor the series, and hopes to attractcelebrities as guests, such as actor Alec Baldwin, who wrote a bookon parental alienation, former TV talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell,on her same-sex marriage andadoptions, comedy-legend CarolBurnett, on losing her daughter tocancer, Canadian songstress AnneMurray, about her daughter’sanorexia nervosa, and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore on late-lifedivorce in light of the end of his40-year marriage to wife Tipper.Ultimately, Brownstone believes the show will be “a nat-ural fit for Oprah.”Certainly, he wouldn’t pass upthe opportunity to appear as aguest on her talk show. But hethinks that Family Matters would be “right up the alley” for theOprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which is big on programmingfocused on relationships.“If Oprah was interested inhim, he would have to think ser-iously about leaving the bench because the show would changedrastically and a network wouldpay him enough that he wouldn’tneed his day job,” says Kinney, who serves as co-producer of Family Matters.She plans to approach themajor TV networks in Canada andthe U.S., including OWN, with thehope that one will agree to broad-cast the series which, as Brown-stone points out, deals with issuesthat are generic enough to haverelevance for either Canadian or American television viewers.If the show is professionally presented, it’s “not impossible” forFamily Matters to end up on thesmall screen, according to the for-mer president of the Barreau duQuébec, who last year helpedlaunch the province’s first legal-information TV series, “Le Droitde Savoir” (The Right to Know),on both the French-language pub-lic educational network, Télé-Qué- bec, and the French-languagecable station, Canal Savoir.“We have to inform people
PHOTO COURTESY OF JUSTICE HARVEY BROWNSTONE
Ontario Justice Harvey Brownstone on the set of “Family Matters” TV.
I want to be a positiveambassador for thecourt and want thecourt to be proud of meand see me as someonewho is enhancingaccess to justice.
Legal educationfor the massesfrom the Bench
Web-TV program hopes to get picked up by major network
JUDGE ON TV