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By BILL MARANTZ A casual meeting at a Zionist function launched my seven-year association with the Cherniack family law firm. “Send him to see me,” Saul said, when my father mentioned that I was going into law.

In 1956 the Manitoba Law School was on the third floor of the Law Courts Building and the staff, with the exception of the dean and comptroller, were practicing lawyers. You attended classes in the morning, “articled” in law office in the afternoons, and after four years were called to the bar. Occasionally a student did not stay the course but I can’t recall anyone flunking out.
Technically Saul Cherniack was my “principal” but my mentor was Al Mackling. It was standard practice for the “senior student” to guide the rookie. Al was several years older than me, having gone back to school after several years in the workforce, like the firm’s senior partner, Joseph Arthur Cherniack, and was cut from the same socialist cloth as Saul and J.A. An active member of the CCF party (which later became the NDP), Al was a perfect fit for the Cherniack firm. Yet, after graduating (with the Gold Medal), he left to launch his own St. James practice and political career. I had even less interest in politics than law but I guess it didn’t show because after I was called to the bar Saul and J.A. took me into the family business.
Cherniack & Cherniack wasn’t the only father-son firm in Winnipeg (Stubbs, Stubbs & Stubbs was right across the street) but it was the only one where the partners sat down at the same dinner table. 333 St. Johns Ave. was a North Winnipeg version of Downton Abbey; three generations of the Cherniack family living and working together. After we had moved from our Dickensian office on Main Street, north of Portage, to more spacious quarters, south of Portage, Saul’s wife Sybil joined the firm as receptionist/bookkeeper, and her teenage son, Lawrie, joined us for a few months in the summer. Both he and his mother could type as fast (if not faster) than our regular stenographers, but I’m not sure if Lawrie took shorthand.
By this time I had been made a junior partner.
Two years later the Cherniack Cherniack & Marantz sign that hung outside our newly renovated ground floor digs had to be changed again. Like my predecessor I had left to open my own one-man firm - not because of any disagreement with the Cherniacks but simply to pursue my own extra-legal activities with a clear conscience. Though I’m sure the Cherniacks were puzzled by my precipitous departure, there seemed to be no hard feelings. As always, Saul was the quintessential gentleman.
My other senior partner also accepted my decision with uncharacteristic equanimity. Joseph Arthur Cherniack was not known for his flexibility. He had a mane of unruly grey-white hair and the disposition of a bulldog. “I’d rather engage in litigation with another lawyer than have a routine house deal with J.A. Cherniack,” Gordon Pollack (the elder) used to say. J.A., who was pushing 80 when I joined the firm, was the polar opposite of his son. Saul Cherniack is the most diplomatic and organized human being I have ever met. He would not leave the office, even if it was ten at night, until every item on his Brownline Calendar Pad had a line through it.
J.A., who had a memory like a steel trap, used his diary as a paper weight.
He also used a large paper clip to hold his tie in place... and kept a fountain pen clipped to his back pocket. He preferred fountain pens to ballpoints and, when the secretaries were tied up, would occasionally write out a document (transfer of land, mortgage) longhand, which was common practice at one time. (see Bartleby The Scrivener.) J.A’s penmanship was elegant but barely legible. He would break off in the middle of a word, with a flourish, and join the remainder to the next word: Some thingli kethis.
Sybil Cherniack, an attractive, highly intelligent woman with a heart of gold, died of cancer far too young. Her father-in-law could not have been the easiest person in the world to work with, let alone live with. Yet, for some reason, he seemed to have a soft spot for me. Right from the beginning he accepted my callow ignorance (like not knowing where the Paris Building was located) with amused tolerance rather than characteristic exasperation. He seldom criticized my gaffes and never chewed me out -even when I went home with his car keys in my pocket.
Shortly after I left the firm J.A. paid me a visit at the office I shared with two other sole practitioners (ironically, in the Paris Bldg) and retained me as “counsel” on a case that was set to be heard in a few days. In spite of his bluster J.A. did not like appearing in court and his increasing deafness gave him an excuse to avoid it. It was a simple debt action and I obtained judgment for the plaintiff with little difficulty. My “client” was pleased with my advocacy but not my bill. I don’t recall how much it was, but it was one of the few statements my part-time secretary, whom I shared with Stan Udow, sent out that year... or in any of the following years. The $20,000 I earned in my last year at Cherniack firm turned out to be the high water mark of my legal career.
Fortunately I was able to supplement my income with a freelance broadcasting gig, followed by a judging gig that fell into my lap when the CBC well was running dry. Though I’ve never confirmed my suspicions I have no doubt who was responsible for my appointment as a part-time Provincial Court judge. Saul was a member of the Howard Pawley cabinet, as was Al Macking, Sid Green and virtually every other NDP lawyer in Manitoba. So the pickings were rather slim. By that time Roy Stubbs had been appointed Senior Judge of the Family Division, J.A. had died, while still in the saddle, and Lawrie Cherniack had chosen to practice with another firm. So the family business was on its last legs.
Or perhaps it had already expired. Eventually it was taken over by my classmate, Lenny Weinberg, but I’ve never investigated the details. Perhaps I should have asked Saul when I bumped into him, a few months ago, at a Canadian Tire store. “How old is he?” my wife asked, when I told her of our brief encounter. It suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea. And when I googled the name “Saul Cherniack” I was astounded at the result. My old partner looked more vigorous at ninety-seven than I felt at seventy nine. The Cherniack law firm is history but the family genes were carrying on.

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