His Honour Judge Nicholas Mussallem|
His Honour Judge Nicholas Mussallem of the Provincial Court of British Columbia died on October 23, 1979, following several years of severe illness. It was in keeping with his character that in spite of constant and ever-increasing pain, he continued to sit on the Bench until very shortly before his death.
He was held in affectionate regard by Bench and Bar alike as one of the last of the great characters of the legal profession.
Nick Mussallem who on earth ever called him Nicholas? was born on October 3, 1910, in Prince Rupert as one of six children of Solomon Mussallem who, as a lad of 17 years, had come to Canada from his native Lebanon and was to become the head of one of British Columbias families and, for many years, Reeve of Maple Ridge. Always conscious of the enormous contribution made by the ancient Phoenicians from whom he traced his descent to the civilization and commerce of the world, Nick took a lasting interest in the history and archaeology of his ancestral people.
Whilst at the University of British Columbia, he met his future wife, Frances. She was the daughter of Edward Alexander Lucas who is remembered as a distinguished member of our Bar, a noted poet, and a great authority on the history of the American Civil War. Following his graduation as a B.A. in 1931, Nick entered the family business, but having decided that commerce was not for him, on April 3, 1939 became articled to his father-in-law. He was called and admitted on April 7, 1942, and immediately joined the Canadian Army. After the war he entered legal practice first with the late Herb Drost and then in partnership with his father-in-law, Eddie Lucas. He practiced at various times as a member of Mussallem and Annable, Mussallem, Trent, Becker and Drozdzik, and Mussallem and McGeer. His practice was initially a general one, but he gradually drifted more and more into criminal defence work, to which he was singularly well suited. As a lawyer, he fought for his clients with a single-minded tenacity: his fault if fault it was was that though he would concentrate on the evidence and study the law and make his clients problems his own, he had a regrettable tendency to forget about the fee.
He devoted himself to his clients' interests to the virtual exclusion of all lesser considerations, such as office organization, troublesome correspondence, or other irrelevancies.
Though always dedicated to his profession, Nick had a wide variety of other interests, including Scouting (he was for many years an active cub master), Egyptian and Phoenician archaelogy, and the study of science fiction, and amassed a spectacular collection of books on this esoteric subject.
Nick was, above all else, a dedicated and passionate Freemason and rose to Grand Master of British Columbia. To him Freemasonry was not some occult mystery to be practiced in the dim recesses of a Lodge room, but a way of life; he saw in every man, from the highest and most distinguished to the lowest outcast of society, a brother human being: it was this vision of his fellow man which made him a great judge.
He was appointed to the Provincial Court Bench on July 21, 1971.
No appointment could have been more felicitous. Nick regarded the Provincial Court as the most important court in the land, the court where well over 95% of all criminal cases are heard, the only court with which the average Canadian is likely to have contact from the day of his birth to that of his death. It is the peoples court and Nick was, above all else, a man of the people.
Nick settled into the judges chair as though it had been made for him and got to work: not for him the fine niceties and pedantries of abstruse legal argument capable lawyer though he always was: he had an inborn instinct, a gut reaction, for what was fair, an inherent sense for what was right. He had a feeling for Justice and an ability to find and adopt the law to serve the cause of Justice.
Totally free from arrogance or self-importance, he was courteous and helpful on the Bench, particularly to young counsel. If ever there was an appearance of anger, it was only at what he believed to be an unfair or oppressive prosecution. On one occasion after he had dismissed a charge for want of prosecution, Crown counsel re-layed it and appeared before Judge Mussallem, who promptly adjourned the case for 30 years.
He stood guard for any signs of erosion of the rights of the citizens who appeared in his Court: the presumption of innocence was not some tiresome legal fiction to which lip-service must be paid, but the golden thread which ever glittered in the often crumpled fabric of the case before him.
Always conscious of the good which was to be found in all men, his life, both on and off the Bench, was marked by infinite kindness, humanity and compassion.
Judge Darrell Jones, in his eloquent court-room tribute described him as one who was devoted to the law. One hesitates to disagree with any judge, but the name of the mistress whom Nick Mussallem served throughout his professional life is not Law: her name is Justice.
Reprinted from "Nos Disparus", The Verdict. ed. David Roberts. vol. 37, part 6. Vancouver : Vancouver Trial Lawyers Association, October / November 1979. pp. 539-40, 24 cm. x 17 cm., with the permission of the author, R.W. Bro. H.A.D. "Bert" Oliver. (1921/06/11-2011/01/14)