Sunday, June 14, 2009
Chief Justice Donald Brenner resigns
B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Brenner resigns
Vancouver Sun - JUNE 11, 2009
B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Brenner has resigned after nine years at the helm of the province’s senior trial bench.
Justice Brenner said he will wrap up the few cases still on his desk and depart by the end of the summer.
“After 17 years as a judge of the Supreme Court of B.C., including the last nine years as chief justice, I have decided it is now an appropriate time for me to step down,” he announced Thursday.
“I will be leaving our court on Sept. 7, 2009.”
At 64, Justice Brenner could have continued sitting until 75, but he said he was looking forward to new challenges.
“I’ve had five careers, I think,” the former commercial pilot with Canadian Airlines said. “It’s time to reinvent myself again.”
He will leave a court that is administratively ship-shape and on the verge of adopting a new set of civil rules that will mark the first radical change in procedures since the litigation process was formalized in the 19th century.
“From his very first days as chief justice, it was clear that he was an exceptional appointment,” said Miriam Maisonville, president of the Canadian Bar Association’s B.C. branch, which represents a majority of the province’s roughly 10,000 lawyers.
“He is a brilliant, creative man, committed to making the justice system accessible to all. Don has been a compelling and effective chief justice, giving years of his life to the goal of improving the justice system. We have been very fortunate to have him at the helm for so long.”
Brenner was appointed chief judge in May 2000, replacing Bryan Williams, then 67, who resigned after four years in the post to spend more time with his family and work in alternative dispute resolution and mediation.
The son of a Second World War hero, Brenner learned to fly a helicopter when he was 16 to become the youngest pilot in the country at the time. He graduated from tony St. George’s in 1962 and obtained his law degree from UBC in 1970.
He articled at Shulman, Tupper, Worrall, Johnson & Laxton — following in the footsteps of former judge Tom Berger, retired B.C. Appeal Court justice Mary Southin and high-profile lawyer and former B.C. Hydro head John Laxton.
After his call to the bar in 1971, Brenner went into partnership with Brian Abraham, as Brenner & Abraham.
Throughout law school, articles and his practice, Brenner continued flying helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, eventually as captain of a 737 jet.
He developed those two demanding disciplines into a highly respected niche practice in aeronautical and insurance law.
One of Brenner’s first big cases was the crash of a Pan Arctic Oil plane in the far north that killed 33 people. He later acted as counsel for Pacific Western Airlines after the horrific 1978 accident in Cranbrook that killed 42 of the 49 crew and passengers.
He was named Queen’s Counsel in 1987.
His former partner Brian Abraham said Brenner was an excellent businessman. Lawyer Ean Maxwell joined the firm at one point to practise family law, and Brenner followed the increase in costs with great interest.
He was often heard to remark that the greater part of the firm’s sudden increase in paper costs was for Kleenex for Maxwell’s clients upon seeing his bills.
His sense of humour is said to hold him in good stead on the golf course, where he is considered a talented lawyer.
During his years in practice, Brenner was chairman of the air law section of the Canadian Bar Association in B.C., and a director of the Air Transport Association of Canada, the B.C. Aviation Council, and the Lawyers’ Inn.
He participated in the Law Society’s governance as a member of the credentials committee. In addition, he was called to the bars of the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alberta.
In 1992, Brenner, married with two grown daughters, was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court, which handles the most serious crimes such as murder, extortion and sexual assault, as well as complex civil cases.
The court — which has a current complement of 81 full-time judges and 22 supernumerary judges — also hears most appeals from the provincial court and arbitrations.
Brenner is lauded for his even temper, legal acumen, compassion, integrity, and ability to relate to people from all walks of life.
He is particularly skilled in resolving complex commercial disputes by finding solutions in which both parties and their counsel have confidence.
Throughout his tenure, Brenner has been striving to improve the court’s efficiency and effectiveness with a view to improving access to justice.
He co-founded the court’s information technology committee and in 1999 he became chairman of the litigation management committee.
The court is one of the most technologically advanced in Canada — from computer-assisted research and electronic filing of documents to video-conferencing and litigation management systems. As well, Brenner believes the proposed new rules will bring its currently archaic procedures up to date.
There remains controversy about that, however, as some lawyers believe the rule changes are a mistake and will make it harder for ordinary people to get their day in court.
“I’ve signed off on them,” he said. “It’s now up to cabinet to adopt them.”
Judicial appointments such as this are made by the federal cabinet on the recommendation of Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson, MP for Niagara Falls, Ont..
My special thanks to Ian Mulgrew for the detail in his Brenner column.
I appreciate knowing more about Donald Brenner as a human bean.
Now I wish Ian would talk about the "currently archaic procedures" of the courts and what Brenner has done to improve them.
While it's great to be able to click onto 3 links (once a citizen can find them) and be told what's going to happen this very day in every courtroom in British Columbia ... yes, it is great. But it implies an arm's length interest.
The current system says "OK, here's what's happening ... but you'll never get your sorry butts into the public galleries in the 3 hours between these lists and when the courtrooms rise to greet the Honourable judge arriving in black robes to begin the session!"
The judges, lawyers, and clerks know well in advance that File #xxxxx returns to court at a certain time.
Does some abused court clerk actually have to work the night shift, scuttling around the corridors looking for notes taped to locked chambers, trying to find out what's the plan for the day? No, I don't think so.
My point is: the dates are known in advance, so why can't the public be informed early enough (i.e., at least 24 hours in advance) to allow people to be in Vancouver ... to be in the public gallery ... and to do their own due diligence as citizens of the province of B.C.?
And yes, "bean". Sometimes it just sounds more human.
THIS, has everything to do with BC!
Buy,selling and trading for information. I mean evidence.
BC Mary,You asked(Does some abused court clerk actually have to work the night shift, scuttling around the corridors looking for notes taped to locked chambers, trying to find out what's the plan for the day?)
Robin Mathews wrote in part, That, as I remember, was when Mr. McCullough for the Defence rose and suggested that perhaps Mr. Dohm should send a memo to all parties involved. Mr. Dohm did not say: “Thank you, Mr. McCullough, but I think we can work the problem out now.” (Since he very likely was play-acting and knew very well what he was going to do before ever entering courtroom 43.) Instead, he quipped back, insultingly (as I observed the moment), “I don’t send memos”. Ha. Ha. Some people laughed. It never hurts (those in the legal community) to laugh at Mr. Dohm’s bad taste intended as humour.
As quoted, “ I don’t send memos”. Ha. Ha.
After all this isn't the wild west to the south where many judges are elected (along with sheriffs and prosecutors).
I could be wrong, of course!