Derek Hogan, prolific N.L. public defender, passes away at 66

·4 min read
Lawyer Derek Hogan in court representing Trent Butt. Hogan died Saturday at age 66. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Lawyer Derek Hogan in court representing Trent Butt. Hogan died Saturday at age 66. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)

Derek Hogan — a gifted lawyer, cherished mentor and staunch believer in the legal aid system — has died.

The St. John's lawyer spent his career representing people who could not otherwise afford a legal defence. He worked thousands of cases at the criminal courts in Newfoundland and Labrador, appeared before the province's Appeal Court more than 140 times, and took at least 12 of those cases all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Despite his success, and the opportunities to cash in for a more lucrative career in the private sector, Hogan stayed loyal to Legal Aid N.L. for 33 years — sometimes remarking he'd rather drive a cab than work for a law firm.

"I don't think he was joking about that," said Peter Ralph, a former coworker and longtime friend. "There's lots of people that do this for money, or prestige or social status. None of that mattered for Derek. Derek loved the law, and he really enjoyed representing people that needed his help."

Paul Daly/CBC
Paul Daly/CBC

Hogan, who hailed from Nova Scotia, came to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1989. Ralph joined him at the legal aid office in 1991, and the pair became fast friends. They played hockey together several times a week, and spent many Friday nights arguing meaningless topics over drinks at a downtown pub.

"Whether he was sitting at the bar at the Rose and Thistle, or in the Court of Appeal, I don't think he changed," Ralph said. "He spoke the same way.... That was Derek. Very frank, and open and honest."

Hogan's wife passed away in January, and about six weeks later, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. While his prognosis was good, friends say he likely suffered a complication from treatment which resulted in a sudden illness late last week. He died Saturday morning.

"It was so shocking," said Rosellen Sullivan, a fellow lawyer and friend. "He was in such good spirits. He was planning two trips this summer."

Eddy Kennedy/CBC
Eddy Kennedy/CBC

Sullivan relied on Hogan not just as a friend, but as a mentor. Despite Hogan's feelings about private practice, he was always willing to help her with legal questions or talk strategy around a case she was working at her firm. He once told the Telegram that the best part of his job was teaming up with young lawyers to take on big cases.

"Anybody could call Derek," Sullivan said. "He was really good with young lawyers, because he really wanted people to get it."

Chief among the cases Hogan will be remembered for is R. v. Simpson — where he argued a woman's rights were violated when she was forced to spend the St. Patrick's Day long weekend in custody without appearing before a judge. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, and set a precedent for provinces to adopt special courts for weekends and statutory holidays. The ruling came down on a Thursday, and court was open the following Saturday.

Death leaves void at Legal Aid

His appearances before the country's highest court made him a known quantity in Ottawa. When fellow Legal Aid N.L. lawyer Jason Edwards appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada for the first time, the receptionist who signed him in asked excitedly if he knew Derek Hogan.

Edwards said what made him successful was not just his knowledge of the law, but also his ability to relay it with humility.

"He was without a doubt the finest criminal law lawyer that we've ever had," Edwards said. "The thing about Derek was that he was so approachable. I can tell you right now, there are some lawyers who if they had attained his stature, they'd be totally unapproachable. They'd have had themselves on a pedestal... Not Derek."

At the office, he was also known for listening to courtroom audio without headphones. Edwards said he'd ask him daily to turn it down, and even once bought him headphones — to no avail.

"Every single morning, he'd start listening to disclosure and I'd have to go bang on his window and tell him to keep it down. And it sucks now that I don't have to tell him every morning to keep it down."

Edwards said it will be impossible to replace him, but senior lawyers at Legal Aid N.L. will step up to mentor the people Hogan had under his wings. He said his loss will be felt for a long time.

Hogan was 66 years old.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting