THE ADVOCATE 257
VOL. 79 PART 2 MARCH 2021
which he and Joyce fashioned into stunning art pieces they called “assemblages
de la plage”.
Michael practised law in British Columbia from 1956 until his judicial
appointment in 1975. Although he specialized in civil litigation, he was also
one of a small group of lawyers appointed as Crown counsel in criminal
While one of three appointees to the County Court of Vancouver in 1975,
he also carried the unique distinction of being simultaneously appointed as
local judge of the Supreme Court. At no other point in the history of the
British Columbia justice system has such an appointment been made. The
idea was apparently that in addition to sitting in the Vancouver County
Court, Michael would be a “roving judge”, travelling throughout the various
counties, perhaps bringing a taste of British organization and rule abidance
to the outer regions. Not surprisingly, the idea was dead on arrival, either
because the local administrative county judges made it clear they would
brook no oversight of their fiefdoms, or more likely, as some believe, that
Chief Justice of British Columbia Sonny Nemetz had simply changed his
This was all good for Michael. He was spared the prospect of constant
travels to the outer regions and instead concentrated his skills in Vancouver
where he was one of the longest-standing members of the AG-appointed
Rules Committee and ultimately the chair of that committee, as well as one
of the most respected/notorious judges to preside in Vancouver chambers.
There is a large swath of us Boomers in the Vancouver law community who
will not forget Catliff in chambers. He did not tolerate fools. He had no time
for late arrivals. Worse still, he had no tolerance for those who were not prepared
to properly present or respond to the chambers application at hand.
A colleague remembers him as “scary”. The idea that any lawyer did not do
everything possible to advance their client’s interests was anathema to him.
Counsel’s failings became what he called “learning opportunities”.
That said, Michael was also a favourite judge. From the moment he
strode into any courtroom and focused his laser gaze on the parties and
their counsel, everyone knew they had his full attention. As one admiring
juror wrote to him following a jury trial in 1990:
Thank you for restoring my faith in the judiciary. I was a member of the
jury in a case which appeared before you last week. I had expected the
judge to be slumped over either drunk or asleep. You were neither.
Your input—clarifying points with both counsels and with the witnesses
and your brief but illuminating address to the jury—was very helpful and
much appreciated. I was impressed by your fairness and your knowledge
but also by your obvious enthusiasm for your job.