Local legal eagle Judge Josiah Wood dead at 73

Duncan Judge Josiah Wood with grandson, Josiah.  - Courtesy Wood family
Duncan Judge Josiah Wood with grandson, Josiah.
— image credit: Courtesy Wood family

Judge Josiah Wood, Cowichan's beloved legal eagle, judicial visionary, and cinnamon-roll lover, died Monday.

He was 73.

While the Queen's Counsel lawyer was perhaps best known for his career on Duncan's busy bench, the family man was also renowned for his interest in law-abiding Cowichanians.

"I used to see Josiah at the Duncan Garage café all the time," said valley arts-impresario Longevity John Falkner.

"Josiah invited me for supper, and I had a good time. We used to walk our dogs, and we'd meet at Garage café and solve the world's problems every Saturday morning.

"He used to let me hold counsel with him."

Falkner was floored by Wood's caring nature.

"Josiah was the most generous, compassionate person I've ever met. He gave me hope for our judicial system.

"He put so much thought into everything he did."

Including talking cinnamon rolls back to courthouse staffers, claimed Longevity John.

"Josiah did things to make the court system more humane. He befriended me; he wasn't given to value judgements on people, he looked deeper than the visual."

Optics of Wood's legal career show a guy committed to finding justice.

Wood was appointed to the bench of the Provincial Court in Duncan in September 2007.

He'd practised with Blake, Cassels & Graydon in Vancouver since 1996. Before that, he served as a judge of the B.C. Supreme Court (1983-1989), and the B.C. Court of Appeal (1989-1996).

Wood began his career in 1968 with Dowding, Deverell, Harrop & Wood, where he practised for 15 years.

He was also a bencher of the Law Society of British Columbia from 1978 to 1983.

Among Wood's legacies is helping the organizing committee and faculty of UBC's trial-advocacy course.

He was a faculty member of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada national criminal-law program for 28 years.

That hefty resume sure impressed veteran Duncan lawyer Mike Coleman.

"I knew Josiah on campus at UBC law school. He was in the law library studying when I was in meetings playing politics," Duncan's former mayor said.

"He had an outstanding career as a lawyer, and a stellar judicial career; Josiah's one of the giants of the B.C. Bar." Coleman fondly noting Wood's bent for local bench work after Supreme Court duty.

"It's probably unique for someone to serve on all three levels of court in B.C., and in that order. He had an incredibly incisive intellect, and a deep understanding of the law, but also of justice — which is often a different thing."

Coleman also saluted Wood's "instrumental" role in developing the domestic-violence court, and Duncan's First Nations Court.

The latter "is essentially having local elders assist a judge in his position on sentencing of First Nations offenders."

"That has really helped integrate First Nations communities into the justice system, and assisting justice to be seen to be dealt with in that community."

Despite tense cases, "he had a very dry sense of humour," said Coleman, noting the native Quebecer was most happy with those who did their homework.

"If you didn't know your (legal) stuff, he was less satisfied with presentations that were not well grounded," Coleman said of the judge who tried the recent case RCMP Const. David Pompeo case.

"Josiah was very precise in his decisions, very knowledgeable, and very aware of the impact of law on the community.

"It's the fairness he was always conscious of," said Coleman.

But to Wood's long-time wife, Tina, the judicial giant was just Joe.

"Joe was a devoted family man and he worked very hard to provide a comfortable home for me and our two sons,  Jim and Jeremy," she said of her husband, who died of cancer complications.

"He loved his Jack Russell terriers, and dachshunds, and they were always included on family holidays as Joe hated leaving them at home."

Spare time saw the grandfather of four at work on his other bench, doing carpentry.

"Everything he built was done carefully and with great skill," said Tina.

"When appointed to the provincial court in 2007 he was greatly amused after overhearing a remark made by two teenage sons of a fellow judge at the swearing in ceremony as they wondered 'what he had done wrong, as he used to sit on the Court of Appeal.'"

In Wood's memory, a trust fund will be established to train Native elders to serve in Duncan's First Nations Court.

There will not be a funeral at Wood's request, but there will be a special sitting of the court, tentatively set for June 24.

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