A FORMER Port Macquarie magistrate, referred to NSW Parliament after accusations of improper judicial conduct, has announced her retirement before a final judgment can be handed down.
Earlier this month Special Minister of State Don Harwin started the process to bring Magistrate Dominique Burns before the Parliament where she could be removed from the bench. If found guilty, Ms Burns would have been the first magistrate to be officially removed by NSW Parliament.
But on May 29, Attorney General Mark Speakman told the Legislative Assembly that Ms Burns had decided to retire.
She concludes her appointment as magistrate on May 31.
Dominique Burns was appointed to the Port Macquarie local court circuit on January 4, 2016 to replace the late Magistrate Thomas Hodgson. But within two years, the Judicial Commission was investigating her handling of 17 different cases in the region.
Ms Burns had presided over the Local Court and Children's Court in Sydney before relocating to the Mid North Coast.
She began her career as a court officer at Wyong, Belmont and Wallsend in the mid-1980s before being admitted to the bar in 1998.
As a barrister, she worked primarily in Family Law, District and Supreme Court appeals, Children's Court and some criminal matters.
She was also on the Legal Aid Practitioner Panel for the Children's Court and worked pro bono for the Intellectual Disability Rights Service, Criminal Justice Support Network and Women's Legal Service.
Ms Burns' career has spanned 30 years.
She was referred to Parliament after two experienced judges and a former police commissioner found complaints about her conduct were substantiated.
The Judicial Commission held public hearings into the conduct of the magistrate in November 2018 after lawyers from Legal Aid made a formal complaint about her behaviour, the Sydney Morning Herald reported in January this year.
She was accused of misusing her detention powers, denying procedural fairness, imposing sentences which exceeded the maximum penalty, and encouraging police prosecutors to lay further charges in 17 separate cases between June 2016 and February 2017.
Justice Anthony Payne from the Court of Appeal, Judge Roger Dive from the Drug Court, and former NSW Police commissioner Ken Moroney upheld 16 of the 17 complaints made against Ms Burns.
They found the matter "could justify parliamentary consideration of the removal of the judicial officer from office".
"The matters proved against Magistrate Burns are serious instances of misbehaviour and reflect Magistrate Burns' present and likely future incapacity to exercise the functions of a judicial officer," the report, dated December 21, reads.
Magistrate Burns showed "misbehaviour and incapacity" by remanding people in custody of her own volition, despite having no power to do so, and by encouraging detention applications when none had been foreshadowed, the report found.
It was reported that in one case, she failed to allow a defendant to make submissions on their own behalf before they were taken into custody.
The one complaint that was not upheld detailed an allegation that Ms Burns appeared to suggest she would give a defendant bail if he changed his plea to guilty.
The Conduct Division found the case was "handled poorly", but the complaint was dismissed.
The report found Magistrate Burns' practice of determining bail for appeals in her office instead of in open court was "a manifest denial of procedural fairness".
Giving evidence during the hearing, Ms Burns did not deny she made mistakes but said they were due to her "crushing workload", which impacted her mental health.
She told the hearing her workload was so huge she knew she must be making mistakes, but didn't know what they were, and broke down several times as she gave evidence.
When she commenced her posting at Port Macquarie, there were more than 1000 cases pending.
The report found Magistrate Burns' workload was not "unreasonable" or "crushing". It found her mental illness - which is "in remission" - was a contributing factor to her behaviour, but not the sole factor.
Ms Burns went on sick leave from Port Macquarie Local Court in March 2017 and has been suspended from duty as a local court magistrate since June 2017.