When it came to wrongfully accused criminals in Canada, defence counsel Hersh Wolch represented a veritable who's who in a legal career that was more than five decades long.
Wolch, who represented David Milgaard, Steven Truscott, and Kyle Unger among others, died on Monday after suffering a heart attack at his Calgary residence. He was 77.
"He was probably the most brilliant trial lawyer I ever had the privilege to watch in a courtroom," his former Winnipeg legal partner, Sheldon Pinx, said on Monday.
"He was extraordinarily gifted. He was also skilled in cross examination and other aspects you need in court.
"I am shocked. I am totally shocked."
Wolch first received his Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Manitoba in 1962, before graduating with a law degree in 1965. He was called to the Bar of Manitoba in 1965, Saskatchewan in 1972, and Alberta in 1978.
Wolch began his legal career as a Manitoba Crown attorney from 1965 to 1971, and then went to the federal Department of Justice until 1973.
Wolch switched from prosecuting criminals to defending them and while in Winnipeg he was part of the law firm Wolch, Pinx, Tapper, Scurfield.
But about two decades ago, with most of his practice in Calgary, he decided to relocate there.
Milgaard most prominent case
While Wolch represented many clients through the years, Milgaard - who he was able to free after Milgaard served 23 years in prison for the murder of Saskatchewan nursing aide Gail Miller in 1969 - was his most well known. Milgaard was released after DNA evidence cleared him of the crime.
Wolch even cross examined Larry Fisher - who ultimately was convicted of the murder - before a special hearing of the Supreme Court of Canada, one of only three hearings in its history to have received evidence.
David Asper, who as a criminal lawyer worked on the Milgaard case with Wolch, said Wolch's "cross examination of Larry Fisher at the Milgaard hearing in the Supreme Court was an amazing piece of lawyering, that not only led to getting David’s release, but ultimately the investigation and conviction of Larry Fisher.
"Hersh was a wise mentor and colleague. When events got sped up in our lives as lawyers, Hersh was always able to slow it down, and help get to the best decision possible. And he often did it with a terrific sense of humour and humanity."
Veteran defence counsel Hymie Weinstein said "Hersh Wolch, when he practiced in Winnipeg, was one of the leading criminal defence lawyers in the province.
"He was highly respected by both the Crown and the Judiciary. He was a leading light in our province and he will be missed by the defence bar in Alberta."
'He has helped many people'
Greg Rodin, who was a partner in Wolch's law firm in Calgary, said Wolch "was working to the end - and probably too hard.
"He had numerous cases ongoing. We were working together on Unger. Hopefully that will resolve itself soon."
Unger was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Brigitte Grenier in 1990, at a music festival in Roseisle. But, after spending 14 years in prison, Unger was cleared with the federal justice minister saying in 2009 that the conviction had probably been a miscarriage of justice. He has since launched a $14.5 million lawsuit against federal and provincial justice officials.
Rodin said Wolch had many precedent setting cases through the years.
"Hersh was, if not the most, among the most prominent practitioners of criminal law this country has ever seen," he said.
"He has helped many people."
Wolch is survived by his wife, Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Sheilah Martin, and seven children.
Rodin said funeral plans are pending, but the service will likely be held in Calgary on Wednesday.