Justice John (Jack) Walsh, a leading legal expert in DNA who presided over the first Dennis Oland trial, has died.
Justice Walsh died unexpectedly overnight Thursday, lawyers say, and is being remembered as a hard-working man who didn't talk down to people.
Chief Justice of Court of Queen's Bench Tracey DeWare said Walsh was "a kind, compassionate, and devoted judge."
She said his sudden death is being felt all across the province, and in the Miramichi area where he was based.
"Jack was an unusual but perfect combination in a jurist — he loved the action of the courtroom as much as the ability to write thoughtful decisions," she wrote in an email.
"While he liked to portray himself as a rough lad from the 'Chi,' he was at the same time quite soft-hearted and empathetic."
Walsh was 68.
"Justice Walsh's death was completely unexpected and with all such tragedies has left his colleagues on the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench, and throughout the court system, in shock," DeWare said.
"In the days ahead the priority will remain Justice Walsh's family, who were by far the most important thing in his world."
Saint John lawyer David Lutz said his death is a shock to the New Brunswick legal community.
"He was an outstanding judge," Lutz said. "He was one of two judges that I know in the common in the province of New Brunswick who I would call 'Mr. Justice common sense.'
"He spoke the vernacular Miramichi language, he was a common man's judge. He made sure that he spoke the language of the people appearing in his courts."
At the time of his death he was still an active judge who recently handed down a 4½ year prison sentence for attempted murder in December.
'World authority' on DNA
DeWare said Walsh leaves behind him "an enormous body of jurisprudence, despite his relatively young age."
When he was a Crown prosecutor in Miramichi, Justice John Walsh was among the first lawyers to use DNA evidence, when killer Allan Leger was on trial for murder. Legere had escaped custody and gone on a seven-month killing spree in 1989. With Walsh as one of the prosecutors, Legere was convicted in 1991 of four counts of first-degree murder.
Lutz said this brought Walsh to prominence in the national and international legal community.
"He became a world authority on DNA and was invited to several countries," Lutz said.
Walsh also presided over the second-degree murder trial of Dennis Oland in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father, Richard.
Oland was found guilty of second-degree murder by a Saint John Court of Queen's Bench jury in December 2015, following a three-month trial. However, the conviction was overturned by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal because of an error in the instructions to jury on a "key piece of the evidential puzzle." Oland was later aquitted.
Walsh has also presided over the trial of Devin Morningstar, who was accused of first-degree murder in the death of Moncton teenager Baylee Wylie and arson. Morningstar was found guilty by a jury, sentence to life in prison, and has lost an appeal to overturn the conviction.
Walsh was a member of the national committee of judges that prepare and maintain the standard jury instructions used by judges in jury trials across Canada, DeWare said.
"Jack along with his judicial life partner, Justice Fred Ferguson, spent hours assisting fellow judges with complicated criminal matters," she said.
Walsh was appointed as a provincial court judge in 2008 by lawyer and then-MLA T.J. Burke. Less than a year later, he was appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench.
DeWare said his eyes would sparkle when talking about his young granddaughter.
"While he conceded he might be a little bit biased, he was quite certain she was not only the prettiest little girl on the planet but also the smartest!" she wrote. "He was astounded at her ability to beat him in a game of chess at the tender age of six."