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Judge Donohue hangs up gavel after distinguished career

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Troy Shantz

When Judge Joe Donohue logged onto Zoom last week he expected to deal with a courtroom emergency.

Instead, he was greeted by dozens of family, friends and colleagues on his final day as a Superior Court Justice.

“Wow! Look at those people,” he told his Zoommates.

“I thought I was coming in here for an emergency motion. Gee whiz. I wasn’t expecting all of this.”

Judge Joseph Donohue retired April 6 after 22 years on the Bench, following a 28-year career as a respected Sarnia lawyer.

He ruled on cases across the Superior Court’s southwest region, and until recently “Judge Joe of the North” also presided over cases in Nunavut, giving him a geographical span of jurisprudence that might be unique in Canadian law.

Donohue’s impact on the legal community was noted by the lawyers, judges and courtroom staff who attended the “virtual retirement party” organized by daughter and Sarnia lawyer Sarah Donohue.

Teresa Donnelly, Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario, told Donohue he made her a better lawyer.

“You always wanted us to come to court prepared,” she said. “You expected good material, you expected us to have thought out our case in advance.”

Donohue attended the former Our Lady of Mercy School and often as a child popped over to the courthouse, then located at Christina and Durand streets.

His father was Bill Donohue, a lawyer, and his uncle was R. John Donohue, also a lawyer. In fact, the extended family is saturated in lawyers on both sides of the border, with about a dozen in Ontario and Michigan.

The Donohue clan has practiced law in Sarnia for more than 100 years, and Aunt Ruth was Sarnia’s first female city councillor.

Superior Court Justices are required by law to retire at age 75, and Donohue’s final day came one day before his 75th birthday.

The transition won’t be easy, he admitted, jokingly holding up books on retirement during the Zoom call.

“I keep thinking about what’s my next job on the judicial circuit, so this is an adjustment, there’s no question about that.”

Much of his newfound free time will be devoted to cycling, meeting up with daughter Sarah, and sailing Lake Huron, he said.

“Should you happen to stop at the shore to catch a respite from your busy burdens, you may hear the faint strains of a harmonica, and gaze out to see a distant sail, gliding to the horizon. And you’ll know that I’m at the helm, sailing free,” he said.

A tree planting is planned for the Sarnia Courthouse grounds in honour of Donohue’s contributions.



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