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By BILL MARANTZ Last year there were over a thousand applicants to Robson Hall, located on the Fort Gary Campus of the University of Manitoba, and less than 10% were accepted, almost half of whom were female. In 1956, when the Manitoba Law School occupied the third floor of the Law Courts Building on Broadway, there were 36 applicants (including two women), all of whom were accepted.


Today, it is quite an achievement to get into law school; in my day the only entrance requirements were two years of university and a pulse. Even when it was discovered, a few weeks into the year, that my high school buddy, Murray Zaslov, had doctored his transcript, he wasn’t disqualified. I don’t know what kind of B.S. Zaz fed the dean, but I guess Pete Tallin figured anyone who had the chutzpah to change a failing grade to a passing grade (courtesy Wite-Out) then tried to talk his way out of it had the makings of a future lawyer.
In those days the legal profession was still an “old boy’s club” but our class was more of an “overgrown” boy’s club (the two “girls” dropped out after First Year). Apart from a handful of classmates who were serious about their chosen profession we were all going through the motions. Two notable exceptions were E. Arthur Braid and Andrew Clarence Balkaran, whose work ethic was virtually the only thing they had in common. Art was a boyish, freckle-faced redhead who, in spite of being a paraplegic, had the vitality of the Energizer Bunny and Andy was a soft-spoken 32- -year old Trinidadian who had worked at several jobs (including CNR porter) before opting for the legal profession. His wife arrived in Canada the year he enrolled in law school. Art and Andy were neck-and-neck in the Gold Medal race through all four years. Art was the front runner but Andy nosed him out at the wire.
It was poetic justice because I had “stolen” the Isbister Scholarship (second highest standing) from Andy in First Year. The cash prize ($90 if memory serves) was to go towards the purchase of text books and Andy had been disqualified because he’d told “Colonel” Harvey Streight, the comptroller, that he wasn’t returning to school in the fall. So I was awarded “Place” money, even though I was the “Show” horse...which was still a hell of a long shot.
“What the hell is Marantz doing up there?” Bill Riley exclaimed, when the marks were posted. It was a good question. Like every other member of our “luncheon club” I couldn’t have found the law library, which was just down the hall, without a map. “You didn’t do any more work than I did,” Riley said, accusingly.
“Yes, but I’m a lot smarter than you,” I said, accurately.
William Pitt Riley, a dyed-in-the-wool South End WASP, would marry a Jewish girl, Beverley Zevin, and develop a taste for her mother’s cooking. One day he went to Oscar’s Delicatessen for lunch, ordered chopped liver, and was disappointed to discover it wasn’t that same as his mother-in-law’s. “Where’s the greev’n?” he said, indignantly, when the plate was set in front of him.
As I’ve hinted, the class of ’60 was not the cream of the academic crop. More like the denizens of “Animal House.” One memorable educational experience took place in Third Year, when we had our first (and last) moot court, presided over by rookie lecturer, Cliff Edwards. The law school’s newest full time staff member, who eventually became dean, was a straight-laced Brit who had just arrived from some former British colony, where he’d been a magistrate. Professor Edwards had instructed us that the proper procedure when arguing a case was to first introduce yourself to the court. So Gil Goodman, acting for the plaintiff, rose from the counsel table, and addressed “Justice Edwards” who was occupying the bench. “Good morning, M’lord. My name is Spalding. I believe you’ve played with my balls.”
Some years later Gil would prove to be an equally effective advocate for the Crown. A few weeks after he had been made a provincial prosecutor, Magistrate Tupper took the unprecedented action of making a phone call to the Attorney General with a personal request: “Get this guy out of my court!” Gil spent the next few decades putting in time at the Attorney General’s department, in one capacity or another, and was eventually appointed to the Federal bench.
Which by no means made him unique. Six members of the class of ’60 became judges (roughly 20%) and three were sent to jail (a little less than 10%). And there was no way of predicting who would end up where. Well, almost no way. Ben Hewak, retired Chief Justice of the Court of Queens Bench, wasn’t the world’s most gifted scholar but he worked hard and was one of the more competent Crown Attorneys in the province. According to rumor it was Benny’s North End buddy (Senator) Nate Nurgi,tz who secured his elevation to the Chief Justiceship at the eleventh hour. Apparently the Mulroney Government was all set to confer the post on Justice John Scollin, a volatile Scotchman who’d been a star prosecutor, when Nate pointed out that it wouldn’t go down too well with local voters to choose a carpetbagger when there was a hometown Ukrainian boy available. The rumor is given credence by the announcement in the Winnipeg Free Press, following the appointment, in which a photo of John Scollin appears above Chief Justice Hewak’s biography.
How Benny’s study-mate, Saul Froomkin, the class clown, got to be Attorney General of Bermuda, I have no idea. Of course it was no surprise that Art Braid became dean of the U of M law faculty or that Harry Backlin (né Backwich) would spend a few years in Stoney Mountain for his role in “The Great Gold Robbery.” But that’s a story for another time.