The Ontario justice system lost a leading light on May 17, 2009, when David Humphrey passed away at the age of 83. Justice Humphrey was a leader of the criminal bar for over 35 years and was known for his extraordinary cross-examination skills, his humour and story telling ability. For years, he held court in the lawyers lounge at 361 University Ave. telling war stories and mentoring young lawyers. Justice Humphrey was appointed to what is now the Superior Court of Justice in 1985 and promptly took to calling himself “Merciful Dave.”
The stories regarding Justice Humphrey are legendary. In a rape case in the 1970’s that he considered to be particularly weak, his entire closing argument consisted of “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if this case is rape, then I’m a monkey’s uncle and although the resemblance may be amazing, I ain’t.” The jury acquitted on all counts. One day in his law office, with partner and now Justice Hugh Locke, the office secretary called out in alarm “Mr. Humphrey, the law society auditors are here to audit your books. It’s a spot audit.” Without missing a beat, Humphrey replied “That’s terrific Patty. Order them a coffee and take it out of the trust account.”
His exploits extended outside of the courtroom. An opera lover, Humphrey was the only member of the audience to boo Maria Callas at a concert at Massey Hall. Watching from the sidelines at the 1957 Grey Cup game at Varsity Stadium, he stuck his foot out and tripped Hamilton Tiger Cat defensive back Bibbles Bawel who was running down the field with an interception.
Justice Humphrey was honoured by the Advocates’ Society in the wonderful book “Learned Friends” as one of the fifty greatest advocates of the period 1950-2000. And in November 2008, he received the G. Arthur Martin Award given out by the Criminal Lawyers Association in recognition of those at the very pinnacle of the profession. Justice Humphrey will be sorely missed.