Justice Jack Nadelle set to retire after 38 years on the bench

Justice Jack Nadelle will soon retire as the longest serving Ontario Court of Justice judge. (Benita Baker)

Justice Jack Nadelle will soon retire as the longest serving Ontario Court of Justice judge. (Benita Baker)

The December 9, 1977 edition of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin had a short article noting the appointment of Jack Nadelle, then 36, to the Ontario provincial court. He was then the youngest person ever given a lifetime appointment to the court. Benita Baker reports.

Justice Jack Nadelle, the longest serving Ontario Court of Justice judge, is about to retire. A lawyer since 1968, Nadelle presided over many controversial and difficult cases during his distinguished 38-year career on the bench, earning the respect and admiration of his peers.

“I enjoyed every day of it,” said Nadelle.  “Every case was a new adventure. You had no idea what each morning would bring. It was like getting a Chanukah gift every day.”

Among the high profile cases to come before him was Father Joseph LeClair, the Ottawa priest charged with defrauding the Church of hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2011.

“I knew I had to send him to jail because of the lying and breach of trust,” said Nadelle. “Even his supporters and defence knew that, and I believed I treated him fairly.”

Another was in 1989, when former Indian affairs minister John Munro and several others, including prominent First Nations leaders, were charged with fraud, breach of trust and corruption.

After a year of testimony, with the press questioning why the charges were even laid, all were acquitted.

“This solidified my reputation as a guy who could do tough cases,” he said.

Nadelle began his career as an assistant Crown attorney in Ottawa. Early on, he developed a reputation for being thorough and fair. After spending 10 years prosecuting criminal cases, he was ready for a change. Private practice or becoming chief Crown attorney was not for him, so he put his name forward to be a Provincial Court judge.

Nadelle was born in Fort Coulonge, Quebec, where his father, Harry, owned a general store. They were the only Jewish family in this small community north of Ottawa. At age nine, he and his mother, Minnie, moved to Ottawa so that Nadelle could get a Jewish education. His father stayed behind and would come home to the family on weekends. Tragically, Harry died suddenly in 1957, leaving Nadelle, then almost 16, as the “man of the house,” looking after his mother and three sisters: Sandra, Valerie and Fran. Grandparents Israel and Gertrude Zelnick helped.

Nadelle has fond memories of playing softball in the Jewish Men’s Softball League until an injury forced him to quit. The league asked him to become its first commissioner, to resolve disputes, but that only lasted for one year because they were unhappy with one of his decisions. He is also proud of the seven years he served on the Selection Committee for the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Early on in his career, a visiting Jewish judge told Nadelle that the most important quality for a judge was rachmones, (Yiddish for mercy).

“I took this to heart,” said Nadelle. “I have always been guided by sympathy for the downtrodden and understanding of human nature.”

Another Judaic concept that underscores his philosophy is tikkun olam (healing the world).

“I am ‘healing the world’ with every case,” he said.

Occasionally, Nadelle gets letters from people who have appeared before him, thanking him for treating them fairly.

“It is most satisfying to know that I have affected someone’s life for the good,” he said.

Spending 38 years hearing about the horrific things people do to each other can be stressful. The hardest times are when “a thoroughly good person makes that one mistake for which society demands a punishment,” said Nadelle.

Nadelle will turn 75 on January 10. Despite his esteemed reputation, that is the mandatory retirement age for Ontario Court judges.

The accolades are beginning. Fellow judges recently hosted a tribute dinner and the County of Carleton Law Association (CCLA) is holding a gala in his honour on November 26 at the Fairmont Château Laurier.

“He is a judge that other judges emulate,” the CCLA dinner announcement said. “He made better lawyers of all who had the privilege of appearing before him.”

Retirement will allow him to spend more time with Diane, his wife of 47 years, as well as with children David and Susan, and his two grandchildren. He plans to spend time pursuing his two passions – baseball and music – and might consider some tribunal work down the road.

Nadelle’s legal legacy is indelible, significant and impressive. His parents, Eastern European immigrants, would, no doubt, be very proud.

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