What would you do if you were given the power of a judge?
Recently retired Guelph Judge Norman Douglas is giving you the option to think about that possibility with his new book You Be The Judge.
It provides a glimpse into some of the cases he has dealt with over decades of working as either a Crown attorney or a Judge over his 50-year career.
“They all have really interesting issues in them that I wrestled with as a judge,” Douglas said.
“The reader doesn’t know what I did, or doesn’t know what the jury did in the homicide cases … they don’t get to know until they've made their decision, and then they find out what actually happened. That’s the theme of the book.”
There are 12 homicide cases and 12 other criminal cases outlined in the book, dating back to the beginning of his career in 1973 in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie.
Some cases in the book are from his time as a Crown attorney in the Soo, but many come from his 20 years as a Judge in Guelph, from 1996 to 2016.
He also worked as a Crown attorney in Ottawa and Toronto between 1989 and 1994, before he was on the bench in Brampton, where he served for two years.
“I’ve always had this in the back of my mind because when I started judging, and classrooms started to come in and watch the cases, the would ask questions at the recess,” he said. “But they would only get a glimpse of some of the cases.”
Douglas was asked to visit high school classrooms in Guelph so students could learn more, and came up with the game to make things more fun and interactive, though made sure to note the details in cases were quite serious.
Students would learn about the case law involved with a particular case, the options available, and would ask students what they would do if they were in his shoes.
“Not only did it encourage a lot of interest, but kids who might ordinarily might not say anything … would raise their hand,” he said.
It even spurred the birth of new lawyers, remembering a time he was on a break playing a musical gig with a band of London-area lawyers.
“It was pretty crowded," Douglas recalled. "And this young man came walking up to me and he said ‘Judge Douglas, I just wanted to tell you that I’m a lawyer here in London, and I went to school in Guelph and the day I decided to become a lawyer was the day you came in high school and played You Be The Judge.’
“I was just very touched.”
The game also became the premise of the book.
It begins with a “crash course” relating to the decisions a judge has to make in a given case, and outlines terms used in a simple way. It also has a chapter about times he had to take control in the courtroom when things got out of order.
Since the cases are a matter of public record, he uses real names in the book, minus some exceptions in sensitive cases.
“This is an open avenue into what normally people don’t get to see,” Douglas said. ”It’s an educational tool, and it’s what actually happens in a courtroom in Canada, not what you see on TV or Netflix or other media. It’s real life.”
Douglas retired on his 75th birthday in 2021, serving the last few years in the London area.
Now 77, Douglas lives in Collingwood and spends much of his time on the road visiting his 11 grandchildren.
He is also known for his years as an Elvis tribute artist. And yes, it still comes out from time to time.
“I’ve still got my jumpsuit,” Douglas said. “I’m getting a little long in the tooth, but I can still sing, if you’re a patient audience and you’re gracious.”
Beyond that, Douglas has a book signing in Toronto in the new year, and hopes the book could also branch off into getting back into the classroom.