Judge noted for no-nonsense approach

Justice James W. Williams is a former Mountie who grew up in Yellowknife

Neal Hall and Lori Culbert
Vancouver Sun

Friday, January 19, 2007

For Justice James W. Williams, the judge overseeing one of the largest and most complex trials in Canadian criminal history, the road to the bench involved humble beginnings and hard work.

Williams, 58, grew up in Yellowknife, where his father ran a gas station. He obtained his bachelor's degree in 1970 in Alberta, where he had been born.

Special: Robert Pickton on Trial

He later joined the RCMP, which took him to Kamloops, Vancouver and Cranbrook, where he headed the commercial crime squad.

One of his most high-profile files in Cranbrook involved having the police chief of Nelson charged with fraud.

When Williams decided to study law at the University of B.C., he drove a Greyhound bus during the summers to support his wife and three children.

He received his law degree in 1983 and first articled with Vancouver trial lawyer Len Doust, who had been the prosecutor in the Nelson police chief case.

Williams then partnered with lawyer Bill Smart in 1990, forming the successful firm Smart & Williams.

He was a trial lawyer in Vancouver from 1984 to 2002, when he was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. He became the trial judge in the Pickton case in May 2005.

Smart said Williams is a good choice to oversee the complicated Pickton case because he is known for his fair, no-nonsense approach.

"I've known him for 30 years," Smart said. "Jim was known as a fair, common-sense lawyer who had the unique ability to see both sides of an issue."

(Smart was himself appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of B.C. last month. He was interviewed by The Sun several days before he became a judge.)

Williams also has a good sense of humour and understanding of human nature, and he can relate to the work done by both the defence and the prosecution in a courtroom, Smart said.

As a lawyer, Williams has represented both criminals and police officers. He also prosecuted the six teen girls who beat up high school student Reena Virk before she was killed.

In 2000, Williams and Smart defended former National Hockey League enforcer Marty McSorley, who was found guilty of assault with a weapon for hitting former Canucks forward Donald Brashear on the head with his stick during a game.

McSorley was given a conditional discharge.

In 1999, Williams represented RCMP Staff Sgt. Hugh Stewart at the APEC inquiry, which examined the police handling of protesters.

Stewart was dubbed "Sgt. Pepper" because of CBC news videotape that showed him pepper-spraying protesters who refused to move.

But the Pickton trial may be Williams's biggest challenge yet.

It has been nearly five years since Pickton, a 57-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer, was arrested in February 2002.

It has taken so long to get to trial because of the complexity of the case.

The trial has already taken up nearly two years of court time, even though the jury has yet to hear one piece of evidence. A six-month preliminary hearing was held in 2003; several pre-trial hearings were held in 2005; and since January 2006, "voir dire" hearings have been under way to determine what evidence the jury will hear when the actual trial begins Monday.

Publication bans on all those court hearings prohibit making public any details of the evidence.

The accused has pleaded not guilty to killing the 26 women. In August 2006, Williams ordered Pickton to face two separate trials, ruling that one would have been too onerous for the jury.

In the trial that opens Monday, Pickton will face allegations he murdered six women: Sereena Abotsway, Marnie Frey, Angela Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Mona Wilson and Brenda Wolfe.

With research by Pacific Press librarians.


Ninth of 11 parts

The Vancouver Sun continues its leading role in coverage of the Robert Pickton trial with a special team of reporters, photographers and editors dedicated to the case. Starting Monday, we will have extensive coverage inside and outside of the courthouse, with instant news updates throughout the day on In addition, Sun legal affairs columnist Ian Mulgrew will bring his analysis to the opening days of the trial.

 The Vancouver Sun 2007

Robert Pickton on Trial - The Vancouver Sun

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