Edmonton Journal

‘In his own way, he was a leg­end’

Helped lead two ma­jor re­forms dur­ing dis­tin­guished le­gal ca­reer

- SARAH O’DONNELL sodon­nell@ed­mon­ton­jour­nal. com Twit­ter.com/scodon­nell

The Sec­ond World War era air­plane pro­pel­ler and the stuffed tro­phy fish that hung on the wall of Jus­tice Sa­muel Lieber­man’s Ed­mon­ton court­house of­fice spoke to a life­time of ex­pe­ri­ences out­side of his dis­tin­guished ju­di­cial ca­reer.

Mixed with an as­sort­ment of pho­to­graphs that cap­tured his ad­ven­tures, as well as mo­ments with his fam­ily, the col­lec­tion of­fered vis­i­tors a glimpse into his in­ter­est­ing life. “You could look at his wall for about an hour and be en­thralled,” re­called Al­lan Wa­chowich, the for­mer chief jus­tice of the Al­berta Court of Queen’s Bench.

Lieber­man died on Sept. 19 at the age of 90.

He leaves a le­gal legacy that in­cluded 31 years on the bench, 21 of them as a jus­tice with the Al­berta Court of Ap­peal, the prov­ince’s high­est court.

In that time, Lieber­man helped lead two ma­jor re­forms. He was the first chair­man of the Le­gal Aid So­ci­ety of Al­berta, help­ing es­tab­lish le­gal as­sis­tance for peo­ple fac­ing crim­i­nal tri­als. He also pushed to es­tab­lish the Al­berta Board of Re­view for peo­ple found to be crim­i­nally in­sane. It was a ground­break­ing ef­fort, one copied by other prov­inces across Canada. Un­til the re­view board was es­tab­lished, hun­dreds of peo­ple were kept in­def­i­nitely in men­tal in­sti­tu­tions.

Lieber­man be­came the first chair­man of that board, a po­si­tion he held for nine years. “That was an area I where I feel I made a con­tri­bu­tion,” Lieber­man re­called in an in­ter­view with the Jour­nal in 2007.

Those who worked with Lieber­man said he had good rea­son to be proud.

Lawyer Kent David­son, manag­ing part­ner of Miller Thomson’s Ed­mon­ton of­fice, re­called the 85th birthday party that his of­fice threw for Lieber­man, who joined the law firm af­ter he re­tired from the bench in 1997. All the mast­head part­ners of Ed­mon­ton’s ma­jor firms came to the party, along with se­nior mem­bers of the bench and bar.

Lieber­man was born in Ed­mon­ton in 1922 and grew up in his fam­ily’s Glenora home.

In 1940, af­ter com­plet­ing his first year at the Univer­sity of Al­berta, he joined the war ef­fort, en­list­ing in the Royal Cana­dian Air Force. “My Jewish back­ground came into play,” Lieber­man told the Jour­nal in 2005 about his de­ci­sion to en­list. “I said, ‘What the hell, I bet­ter do some­thing.’ I felt an obli­ga­tion not only as a Cana­dian but also as a per­son of the Jewish faith to fight an evil em­pire.”

By the time he re­turned home to Ed­mon­ton in 1945, Lieber­man had flown a wide range of mis­sions. As a mem­ber of the RAF Squadron No. 280, he flew An­sons on air-sea res­cue mis­sions over the North Sea and pi­loted bombers over the At­lantic Ocean with an­other coastal com­mand.

In July 1943, he was posted to the RAF’s No. 8 squadron in Aden, where he flew con­voy es­corts over wa­ter bod­ies that in­cluded the Red Sea and the Per­sian Gulf. It was there that he ended up be­ing as­signed to lead a famine re­lief mis­sion for the tribes­peo­ple of the Wadi Hadhra­maut, an area now part of north­ern Ye­men. He kept me­men­tos of that twom­onth air­lift in a scrap­book, which in­cluded a con­grat­u­la­tory let­ter from Air Vice Mar­shal F.H. McNa­mara, V.C. The air­lift pre­vented 100,000 peo­ple from starv­ing.

Lieber­man re­turned to Ed­mon­ton in March 1945 with the rank of squadron leader, and re­tained his pas­sion for fly­ing — hence the pro­pel­ler on the wall of his court­house of­fice.

He re­turned to the U of A and grad­u­ated from law school in 1945. He joined his fa­ther Moe Lieber­man’s law firm and spe­cial­ized in in­sur­ance law. He mar­ried his wife, Nancy, in 1950 af­ter they met at a ser­vice club con­ven­tion in Win­nipeg.

Wa­chowich, who started his law ca­reer a few years af­ter Lieber­man, said the pair dis­cov­ered they both had fam­ily ties to the same small community in Ukraine. They bonded over that fact, al­though they still had to face each other in court reg­u­larly, since both spe­cial­ized in in­sur­ance law.

Lieber­man’s ca­reer on the bench be­gan in 1966, when he was named to the north­ern Al­berta Dis­trict Court. Four years later, he was ap­pointed as a jus­tice of the Al­berta Court of Queen’s Bench. In 1976, he was pro­moted to the Al­berta Court of Ap­peal and the Court of Ap­peal of the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries.

Lieber­man was an out­stand­ing lawyer who was ap­pointed on his le­gal mer­its, Wa­chowich said, but he also was a ground­breaker be­cause he was the first judge of Jewish faith to be ap­pointed in Al­berta.

“His at­ti­tude was, ‘I want to up­hold the law and make sure the law is up­held,’ ” Wa­chowich said. “In his own way, he was a leg­end.”

Wa­chowich re­mem­bered ap­pear­ing be­fore Lieber­man when he was still a lawyer in a case tied to a multi-car pileup on the Jasper High­way.

“What I ad­mired about him was how, among 13 cars, he was able to as­sess li­a­bil­ity in a way that made sense, which is a dif­fi­cult thing to do when you have 11 lawyers, 13 cars and a whole bunch of in­juries,” Wa­chowich said.

Out­side of work, Lieber­man loved to golf and to fish, Wa­chowich said, and par­tic­u­larly en­joyed fish­ing trips in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries and the Rock­ies.

He held posts with a vast range of community or­ga­ni­za­tions, rang­ing from the CNIB and the Ed­mon­ton Sym­phony to the Ki­wa­nis Club and B’nai Brith. He also served on the board of the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos in the 1960s and be­came part of a group known as the Ner­vous Nine, who put up their own money to save the football fran­chise from go­ing bank­rupt.

Al­ways a gen­tle­man, he was rec­og­nized with sev­eral hon­ours, in­clud­ing the Al­berta Or­der of Ex­cel­lence in 2006.

“I feel very for­tu­nate in hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in the pro­fes­sion and the ju­di­ciary,” Lieber­man told the Jour­nal in 2007. “It’s given me in­sight into many ar­eas of so­ci­ety that I would never have been able to un­der­stand, peo­ple from all as­pects and all strata of so­ci­ety that I would never have come into contact with. It has also given me an op­por­tu­nity to make a con­tri­bu­tion, how­ever small, to our way of life.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same thing.”

In ad­di­tion to his wife, Lieber­man is sur­vived by his son David, his daugh­ters JoAnn and Au­drey, and two grand­sons.

 ?? GREG SOUTHAM/ ED­MON­TON JOUR­NAL FILES ?? Re­tired Jus­tice Sam Lieber­man in 2005 with a model of a Welling­ton bomber, one of the planes he flew dur­ing Sec­ond World War.
GREG SOUTHAM/ ED­MON­TON JOUR­NAL FILES Re­tired Jus­tice Sam Lieber­man in 2005 with a model of a Welling­ton bomber, one of the planes he flew dur­ing Sec­ond World War.
 ??  ?? Jus­tice Sam Lieber­man flew a wide range of mis­sions dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.
Jus­tice Sam Lieber­man flew a wide range of mis­sions dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

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