Prime Minister Harper announces the appointment of Neil Wittmann as new Alberta chief justice

New chief justice appointed by Daryl Slade, October 24, 2009, Calgary Herald
The new chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta takes over with a solid grasp of the system. Neil Wittmann, 65, who was officially announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday, has been associate chief justice since Jan. 18, 2005. Prior to that he was on the Alberta Court of Appeal since 1999. “It’s not without some familiarity,” Wittmann said of his new loftier perch on the bench. “I don’t know that anything has sunk in yet. “I’ll now be responsible for the whole province. We have 11 circuit points, including Calgary and Edmonton. A lot of the administration will be the same, but there might be more of it.” Wittmann replaces Allan Wachowich of Edmonton, who was elected to become a supernumerary justice effective Oct. 1. Another Calgary judge, John Rooke, a member of the bench since 1991, was simultaneously named by Harper to fill Wittman’s shoes as associate chief. Last year, in a high-profile trial, Wittmann struck down the Alberta government’s $4,000 payout limit on soft tissue injuries. It was overturned earlier this year by the Appeal Court, which ruled the compensation cap doesn’t infringe on crash victims’ charter rights. Alberta Justice Minister and Attorney General Alison Redford, in congratulating the appointments, said “both these individuals bring a great deal of experience to their new positions. I am confident they will provide very strong leadership.” Both appointments are effective immediately, but it was unclear if both Wittmann and Rooke will remain in Calgary. Traditionally, one would serve in Calgary and the other in Edmonton. Wittmann said he will meet with Rooke next week to work out a plan of action. Both justices were in Edmonton on Friday, but only met briefly. Wittmann is the first chief justice based in Calgary since Kenneth Moore retired on Dec. 5, 1999. At that time, Wachowich took over the top perch and Allen Sulatycky of Calgary became associate chief justice. Wittmann served as the top Calgary judge through the transition into the new, state-of-the-art Calgary Courts Centre in the fall of 2007. [Emphasis added]

Neil Wittmann named new Alberta chief justice by Kevin Martin, Sun Media, October 23, 2009, Edmonton Sun
CALGARY – Alberta’s got a new top trial court judge along with a freshly minted second-in-command. And for the first time they’re from the same city – Calgary. Prime Minister Stephen Harper today announced Court of Queen’s Bench Associate Chief Justice Neil Wittmann will take over for outgoing Chief Justice Allan Wachowich. Wachowich, from Edmonton, elected to become a supernumerary judge effective Oct. 1, meaning he will no longer sit full time. To replace Wittmann as associate chief, Harper announced Calgary Justice John Rooke will take that position. Wittmann said he’ll discuss with Rooke, who was out of town, whether his second-in-command will be moving up north, or remain a sitting Calgary judge. “We’re going to get together early next week and work out the logistics of these things,” he told the Sun. Having Rooke remain in Calgary “would be very difficult and present a lot of problems functionally,” he said. Traditionally, the chief and associate chief judges have come from different cities, Wittmann acknowledged. “I have not heard of a situation, or can’t remember a situation, where there was an associate and a chief justice appointed from the same city, so I think it’s unprecedented,” he said. “In Alberta we are unique, geographically,” Wittmann said, in reference to the fact the province has two major cities of similar size to fill those positions.

Wittmann said it’s both an honour and great responsibility to take over as chief. He said his greatest task will be balancing the need for a streamlined system with one which guarantees fairness for those who rely on it. “Most cases … are getting more complex and complexity sometimes leads to greater length and greater length leads to strains on our resources,” he said.

“We just can’t allow the fairness of the process to be sacrificed at the alter of efficiency.” [Emphasis added]

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