Interview with Justice Chapnik

  • December 19, 2022

(Interview conducted in writing in October 2022) photo of Justice Chapnik

Q: Thank you for joining the OBA Civil Litigation Section, Justice Chapnik. Before we explore the substantive questions, could you tell us a little bit about your path to the bench, and what you’re doing now? 

A: Before I was a lawyer, I taught high school and I had four young children when I entered law school. During my lawyering years I was also a bencher, adjudicator, mentor and teacher. Those years, as a working mom balancing priorities, were difficult ones. 

After my retirement from the court, I was privileged to be appointed as a distinguished visiting professor at the then Ryerson University and am a member of Amicus Chambers acting as a mediator to help people settle their disputes. Some counsel and their clients prefer to bring potential court-related matters before an experienced judge for superior bench strength. I believe that mediation/arbitration is most always a better way to deal with people’s problems – it works more efficiently, is less costly, held in private, and in a more informal manner than in a courtroom. After we settled a case recently, I discovered that one of the litigants had participated in the mediation from Italy. Imagine the savings! 

I have also written my memoirs which should soon be published. My time is less structured and I have more time to sleep in, watch TV in the evenings, read books, the papers and be with children and grandchildren. My husband and I are well-travelled and life is good. 

Q: That sounds like a busy and impressive path at every stage. It’s nice to hear that the transition back to private practice has afforded you more leisure time. Could you tell us a bit more about your other transition, the one to the bench? How is life on the bench different from life in practice? 

A: Well, Adil, as you know, in practice, you focus on the needs of your client, to give them the best representation whether in the civil or criminal forums. You have to put your client’s best foot forward in your materials and in an honest presentation of the facts and the relevant law. In doing so, lawyers are aware that our system of justice is grounded in the adversarial approach and so, in the process, you must be cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses of both your client’s case and that of the opposition. 

Life on the bench is very different. The judge is faced with one or more diverse perspectives, each with regard to the facts of the case and the law. The judge must read and understand all arguments and not only reach a conclusion based on the facts and the law, but she or he must be able to articulate the decision in clear, straightforward language. It is important that all interested parties, in particular the unsuccessful parties, know that they have been heard and have some appreciation of the decision based upon the judge’s reasoning. 

Generally, life can carry on in a similar vein for both the lawyer and the judge. I did notice, however, that most of my lawyer friends stopped calling me after I was appointed to the bench in September, 1991. I would have to initiate communication. As well, discussion of my or other judges’ cases was a no-no, as was any personal opinions in politics or various issues that may come before me. At the same time, both lawyers and judges work very hard and long nights to ensure that justice is done and the rule of law is upheld.