UPDATED: Abbotsford lawyer Jack Harris passes away

Worked on both sides of the courtroom during his 37-year career.

Abbotsford lawyer Jack Harris is shown in 2008 when he accepted his honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of the Fraser Valley.

Abbotsford lawyer Jack Harris is shown in 2008 when he accepted his honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of the Fraser Valley.

Abbotsford lawyer Jack Harris was waiting for his turn in court a few years ago, but the case before him was taking some time.

A man who was defending himself was suing someone for a relatively small sum – about $100 – but the plaintiff’s inexperience with the law was drawing out the proceedings.

Finally, Harris rose from his seat, pulled about $200 out of his pocket and presented it to the man, saying, “Will this satisfy you?”

The plaintiff agreed that it would, the judge declared an end to the matter, and the other court issues were able to move ahead.

This straightforward and generous manner was typical of Harris, says Abbotsford Coun. John Smith.

Smith is among the numerous friends, family and citizens mourning Harris’ death this week.

Harris, 69, died Wednesday of a heart attack after collapsing in a Vancouver restaurant, where he had met a friend for lunch.

He leaves behind five daughters – Amber, Krista, Jessica, Anika and Elise – as well as seven grandchildren and his beloved wife, Lynne, who served as an Abbotsford school trustee for 15 years and a city councillor for nine years before leaving politics in 2011.

Smith, a good friend of Harris and his family, said Harris’ death is a huge loss not only for the world of law but for the community as a whole.

“He was just a real high-energy individual who gave so much back,” Smith said.

He said Harris was a staple at many charitable events and was often the first to pull out his chequebook and make a donation. Harris was also known to pick up the tab for school kids buying candy at the corner store near his residence.

Smith said Harris always had an “affable, positive attitude about life.”

“Jack Harris lived life 150 per cent all of the time.”

Abbotsford Crown prosecutor Wayne Norris, who has known Harris for 34 years, described his friend as the “quintessential courtroom lawyer “– a true gentleman who was never at a loss for words and who was genuinely concerned about people.

“He lived large – very outgoing, always willing to help, generous of spirit, generous of pocket,” Norris said.

He said Harris was always quick to give whenever he was asked to support charity, and he often went into debt to take on cases for people who couldn’t afford the legal fees.

In the courtroom, Harris garnered respect from both Crown and fellow defence lawyers, Norris said.

“Jack was the consummate professional. He was always the gentleman, and he always played fair … and it was always entertaining. He had a great sense of humour, a quick wit.”

At the B.C.  legislature on Thursday morning, Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong addressed Harris’ passing.

“Jack, in addition to being a remarkable trial lawyer and skilled jurist, was noted for his zest, love of life, his sense of humour – frequently revealed in the strange circumstances that often characterize very serious trials and criminal trials,” de Jong said.

“The only thing that Jack will be noted more for than his skill in a courtroom is his philanthropy in the community. He was generous in the extreme, and no cause was too small to attract his attention and support.”

Harris’ law career spanned 37 years. He and his family moved to Abbotsford in the 1970s.

He commuted to Burnaby for many years, first as a Crown prosecutor, then as a partner in a law firm. In 1993, he moved his solo practice to Abbotsford, setting up the G. Jack Harris Law Office on Justice Way, across from the Abbotsford Police Department.

His early practice included commercial and civil litigation, corporate law, family law and appeals, but he later dedicated the majority of his practice to criminal law.

In 2008, Harris was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of the Fraser Valley, where he had taught criminal justice part-time.

Some of the more recent high-profile Abbotsford cases in which Harris was the defence lawyer included the trial of Timothy Bachman of the iconic Canadian rock band BTO (Bachman-Turner Overdrive). Bachman was charged with sexual offences involving a former foster child, but was acquitted last year.

A celebration of life to honour Harris takes place Saturday, March 22 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (33800 King Rd.), starting at noon. Everyone is welcome.