Order in the pickle ball court! | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger ·

Law360 Canada (June 7, 2024, 2:50 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
“It’s good to be the king” 

              -Mel Brooks in History of the World Part 1

But is it good to be the judge? Not according to our Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Richard Wagner. His Honour noted recently at a news conference that it’s “very difficult” to be a judge. Fewer lawyers are applying to join the bench as the job does not pay enough. The annual salary for federally appointed judges is a meagre $396,700. The chief also notes that furthermore conditions generally are “deteriorating” as support resources are insufficient.

I can personally help improve the situation. I’ll accept an appointment.

I retired from practice after 43 years at the grind wheel. But for almost $400k plus every benefit you can think of I might just be persuaded to exit my retirement. I know that others, such as professional hockey players Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid earn a bit more. But as a judge, at my age, I don’t have to learn how to skate. And I know the cost of living is always a problem, but I doubt any judge loses sleep when the cost of gas increases by five cents a liter, waking up and screaming, “That’s it. I’m taking the bus.”  

Did I mention benefits? I understand judges get eight weeks of vacation. The only time I enjoyed this type of leisure time was after I retired. It’s all good. But if the Feds want to fill one of those judicial vacancies and relieve the strain on the judicial system, give me a call, and I’ll cut down on my pickle ball.

In addition to generous vacation time, pensions, insurances plans etc., judges also get a further $12,000 if they sit in Northern locations such as the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and other places. I understand this northern bonus. I do not begrudge this award. I spent a weekend last year in Muskoka near Huntsville and got mauled by mosquitoes. Nasty.

In addition to the monetary benefits there are what I would call the silent and unwritten perks. The major one is judges can make mistakes to their heart’s content. If they screw up, there is always the Court of Appeal to fix it. And even on appeals the trial judges get deference. The Notice of Appeal reads, “The learned trial judge erred in that….”  That’s almost an oxymoron. It does not represent the real-world sentiment. You would never see a history book reporting on the Titanic, reading something like, “The learned ship’s captain erred in not noticing that iceberg.”

Actually the Court of Appeal judges have it even better than their trial confreres. Of a panel of three, only one has to write the decision. The other two can simply endorse the record saying, “I concur.”  For $396,700 per year, call me up to the appellate court anytime. I’ll work overtime. I’ll even give up pickle ball.

And let us not forget the respect judges get especially from the lawyers. We have to address them as “Your Honour.” Nobody ever addressed me as Your Honour or the like. Actually I’m wrong. I was a moot court judge back in law school at McGill in the early 1970s and the case was being presented in French. The lawyers addressed the judges as “Mon Seignorie.” I loved it. I felt like Louis XIV. I would even ask the lawyers more questions to prolong the argument so I could keep hearing that enchanting phrase. Hey, I’m human…like a judge.

And there are other gestures which could play on a judge’s ego. Such as the bow. The judge does bow back generally but only once to the court attendees. The audience in turn all bow down to the judge. He or she gets the bow from multiple sources. The judge in turn only has to do a mass bow. Not a bad perk.

And some lawyers even try to suck up to the judge right off the bat by the way they introduce themselves: “If it please Your Honour my name representing the plaintiff is Harry Langley.”

If I were a judge and heard this type of introduction it would certainly affect my perception of the lawyer. My ultimate ruling might just depend on whether or not this lawyer’s name pleases me. One surname just cracks me up. That’s the name Beamish. I don’t know why. When I hear Beamish, I just imagine some pompous looking British officer on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 listening to directions from General Wolfe as the latter lay mortally wounded before the capture of Quebec.

WOLFE: “I say Beamish. Where are you?

BEAMISH: Did you call me General?

WOLFE: No I called you Beamish.

Maybe it’s just me.

And what qualities are in demand for a good judge? I Googled the question and not surprisingly there are a number of salient personal characteristics, including sense of ethics, common sense, and humility. (I’m actually quite humble even though I don’t mind being addressed as moan seigneurie.)

I spoke with a couple of judges about these and other desirable traits asking about the quality of sense of humour. Surprisingly, they told me judges are admonished not to exhibit humour in the courtroom as the litigants may think the judge is not taking the case seriously. I think of that Ontario judge who after Donald Trump was elected President in 2016 came to court that week and as a joke he displayed a red “Make America Great again” cap. He almost lost his job. In short, judges must be careful to muzzle their senses of humour. No joking. If you sit on the bench woe is you if you suddenly blurt out, “knock knock.” And if you want the Judicial Council in your face, just say something like, “A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar.” You would end up instantly retired. I suppose thinking about it, that’s where I am right now. And I love it.

Nonetheless I am ready, willing and able to accept the position. I can easily curtail any and all urges to see humour in life, especially in the courtroom. After all everybody knows what the administration of justice really needs is solemnity. 

With all respect Chief Justice Wagner is wrong in his assessment of a judge’s position. This learned justice has erred. 

Have I convinced anybody that no matter the lamentations, it’s still good to be the judge?

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. For more vital musings on travel, check out his book Poutine on the Orient Express: An Irreverent Look at Travel, on Amazon (e-book) and in paper version. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour. And FYI, expect the new book, First, Let’s Kill the Lawyer Jokes: An Attorney’s Irreverent Serious Look at the Legal Universe, to launch in the summer.  

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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