What Happens if Your Judge Falls Ill After Trial But Before Judgement?
It is not uncommon for judges to reserve their reasons for judgment after a trial concludes. Sometimes this can take many months. What happens if a judge becomes ill or dies during this period of time? Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, dealing with such a scenario.
In this week’s case (Walsh v. GMAC Leasco Corporation) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle incident. After trial concluded the presiding judge reserved his reasons. He fell ill and he could not render judgement. As required by the BC Supreme Court Rules the Associate Chief Justice appointed a new judge to conclude the matter. Complicating matters further the Plaintiff’s lawyer died before the new judge was appointed.
The parties could not agree on how best to finalize the matter. The Plaintiff argued the new judge could review the transcripts from the trial and render a decision. The Defendant argued a new trial was necessary. Mr. Justice Johnston decided that the best resolution would be to review the transcripts and address the recalling of witnesses on an individual basis. The Court provided the following reasons:
 Present Rule 23-1(10) is almost identical to former Rule 64(10) and any difference between present Rule 23-1(11) and former Rule 64(11) appears to be mostly in layout rather than substance.
 My primary concern is how best to do justice between the parties to this action. In the unusual circumstances of this case, the plaintiff’s stated desire to have the matter retried on the transcripts of the evidence and argument already given should be given greater weight in light of the fact that the counsel chosen by her to carry her case through trial is no longer available to act for her.
 The controversy surrounding the written opinion I expect will have been fully argued, that argument will be reproduced in the transcript, and I will be in an equally good position to identify portions of the opinion that are either inadmissible or to which little weight should be attached.
 I am persuaded that the appropriate exercise of my discretion under Rule 23?1(11) is to direct that the re-trial be on the official transcript of the evidence heard at the original trial, together with the exhibits filed. That transcript will contain the submissions of counsel on any issues that arose during the trial, together with opening and closing arguments.
 I give leave to the parties to apply to have the evidence of any witness reheard orally, but no such application can be made until the transcripts have been received and a suitable time has lapsed to permit reading of those transcripts.