Great Glasses owner jailed a year
Great Glasses founder Bruce Bergez “made a mockery of the justice system” and deserves no leniency from the courts, says a Hamilton judge.
Superior Court Justice James Turnbull sentenced Bergez on Friday to one year in jail — with no early release on parole — for civil contempt of court.
Turnbull then ordered the married father of three school-aged children to return before him one year from now, on Oct. 7, 2011, to be sentenced for criminal contempt of court.
The judge adjourned the sentencing of the man’s wife, Joanne Bergez, to the same date. “I feel that it is necessary that the three children have one of their parents with them … and that to sentence Mrs. Bergez today would not be in the best interests of the children.”
The couple was found guilty of both civil and criminal contempt in July for ignoring court orders issued by several judges over the past seven years. The courts found Great Glasses outlets were prescribing eyewear to customers contrary to provincial laws and ordered the owners to comply. Turnbull said the couple continued to operate with impunity in the face of those orders and openly defied the courts by ignoring the fines, which amount to approximately $17 million.
Bergez’s business model was to provide customers with a free eye test on a computerized machine, which would then spit out results used to prepare eyeglasses and contact lenses. This was contrary to health regulations that require a prescription from a doctor or optometrist.
Bergez, a former optician whose licence was suspended in 2006, apologized to the court before being sentenced. He said he now realized the “societal importance”of obeying the law and promised to comply with all court orders in future.
“I understand the anarchy that can flow from wilfully disobeying court orders,” he told the judge.
However, Turnbull didn’t buy the explanation that Bergez and his wife had failed to understand or had misinterpreted the previous rulings of three judges.
“Frankly, I found that submission disingenuous and self-serving. I do not accept that he and his wife were mistaken at all with respect to what the courts were ordering and stating.
“If anything, I find such comments to be a further indication of his unwillingness to accept responsibility for the decision to ignore court orders and directions in his effort to continue to make money through Great Glasses.”
Turnbull said he found the apology to be “insincere and hollow.”
The judge noted that the distinction between civil and criminal contempt was subtle, and in this case, he was dealing with both types within a single civil proceeding.
Criminal contempt was conduct that tended to bring the administration of justice into scorn, or which interfered with the course of justice. To prove criminal contempt, he said, the Crown must show the accused openly defied or disobeyed a court order in a public way, knowing it would tend to deprecate the authority of the court.
He said civil contempt was defined as the contempt of disregarding orders or judgments of a civil court.
According to the court-appointed receiver’s first report, more than $4 million was deposited into Great Glasses bank accounts between 2006 and 2010 from franchise fees and royalties. No proper accounting of those funds was provided to the court and “not one cent” was used to pay the outstanding fines, said the judge.
In that time, according to Bergez, he spent more than $700,000 fighting and appealing the orders of the court.
The judge noted the couple has several hundred thousand dollars of equity in their residential home, which was listed for sale on Aug. 23. He said that equity would probably be seized as partial payment for the outstanding fines.
Turnbull said he gave consideration to a conditional sentence of house arrest, but in the end concluded there had to be “concrete consequences” for Bergez and his wife in order to repair depreciation of the court’s authority and to send a message to other like-minded litigants that this behaviour will not be tolerated.
“Orders of a court are to be fulfilled; apologies tendered to a court are to be genuinely remorseful; court orders are to be obeyed in every respect.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bergez have made a mockery of the system of justice. The imposition of significant fines did not deter them. The strong and denunciatory language of the courts did not deter them,” said Turnbull.