The unsuspected impact of judges’ every day activities

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Artist Kirsten Savage wrote movingly about learning that a painting of hers had had a tremendous impact on someone losing their sight. A patron told her that a friend of his with macular degeneration was surrounding herself with beautiful artwork to enjoy while she could, and had asked to borrow one of Ms. Savage’s paintings.

The artist said knowing that someone wanted her artwork to be one of the last things she saw brought tears to her eyes, “… it reminded me that we never fully know the potential impact we could have on another person with a single creation, a passing comment, a small gesture.”

From time to time judges are reminded that the things they do routinely to engage with their communities may have a far greater impact than they imagine.

For example, Pat Parsley, Coordinator of Specialized Victim Support Services in Powell River, wrote,

“A couple of years ago we victim service workers were attending the weekly criminal court session. During a break in the proceedings presiding Judge Ann Rounthwaite invited us to her chambers to have a chat. We were surprised and intrigued. Judge Rounthwaite commended us and victim service workers around the province in the work we do, saying it was important and valuable work.

This was such an encouraging and uplifting experience, that during a second meeting with the Judge, I invited her to our Family Violence/Sexual Assault Committee meeting to meet with other service providers in our community. Much to my delight she accepted.

Since that time Judge Rae and Chief Judge Crabtree have also attended our meetings and have chatted with us about the needs in our community as well as provided valuable links to information and tools we may use in our work. We learned about specialized courts in the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. Some of us may attend those court sessions at Chief Judge Crabtree’s invitation. What a helpful and gracious man!

The view I had of judges previously was that they are influential people making important decisions in peoples’ lives. I still have this opinion but can now add that they are gracious, compassionate people who have a good understanding of the struggles some experience due to family violence, addiction and lack of options or information. Our meetings with judges have been a lot of fun …. the law may be dry and unfeeling but the Judges we met are warm and interesting people.

Our committee is now showing a greater enthusiasm and energy due to the connections we’ve had with Judges Rounthwaite and Rae and Chief Judge Crabtree. It’s wonderful to know that influential people like them are working on behalf of the smaller communities.”

Around the province, judges also have a big impact on students. For instance, with a PhD in philosophy (focussed on psychology and criminology) and a stimulating presentation style, Judge Justine Saunders is a sought-after speaker on Vancouver Island. She volunteers her time to speak to law, criminology, journalism, and other students at Vancouver Island University (VIU), the University of Victoria, and high schools.

Judge Saunders has spoken to Resource Management Officer Technology students at VIU each year for the last four years. After a recent session with Judge Saunders, a student wrote “I thought she was pretty amazing. It never ceases to amaze me how hard it is to take a non-biased and less binding view on life when it comes to others. All of us get wrapped up into our own paths so easily. She really was inspirational and her point on this resonated with me”.

Judge Saunders and VIU RMOT students – photo credit Prof. M. Funk

VIU Professor Marilyn Funk commented, “As usual students were inspired by her integrity, commitment, sense of humour and knowledge of the justice system. … Personally, I love listening to her de-mystify legal procedures. She’s got quite a knack for looking at the justice system from the perspective of protecting the environment – which means that the students can easily relate the rules of law, common law principles, etc. to the context of conducting an environmental investigation. She’s a good teacher!!”

In Nelson, Judge Richard Hewson brings experience gained through service in the Canadian Army and work as a trial lawyer to his public speaking engagements. Last fall he hosted several Law 12 classes on visits to the courtroom or visited their classrooms. Trail Law 12 teacher Marilyn Nelson wrote about a courtroom visit, “All of the students enjoyed the conversation and felt they acquired valuable information and insight into the law. We were all impressed with how everyone involved in the procedures that day worked so hard to create the best possible outcome for each person who appeared before you.”

BC Provincial Court judges around the province contribute to their communities in ways like this every day. Every so often they learn that their meeting with a local group or speaking engagement with a class or service club had a more significant impact than they would ever have imagined. Maybe just a bit like Kirsten Savage’s painting.