A giggle and a goodbye to Joel Livergant — one of the great characters from Calgary's legal community
Criminal duty counsel lawyer Joel Livergant died of cancer at the age of 58
There aren't many people who can cause the Calgary courthouse to shut down for a few hours but last week, on the provincial court side, anyway, it did.
Docket courts dealt with a few quick 9 a.m. appearances before clearing out so that hundreds of members of the criminal law community could say goodbye to one of its favourite characters.
Duty counsel lawyer Joel Livergant died of B-cell lymphoma on March 22. He was 58 years old.
"Hands down, if not the funniest, one of the funniest guys I ever met in my life," said defence lawyer Kim Ross.
Ross began calling Livergant a friend when they articled together in 1987, and a brother some time after that.
In fact, Livergant had two friends who were brothers to him — the third in their trio was Jim Lutz.
Lutz — and everyone else who knew Livergant — say he was known for his practical jokes and his giggle.
In the 1990s, Livergant's shenanigans got all defence lawyers banned from the Crown's office during an annual prosecutor Christmas party when he left a trail of workstations less workable than before he'd walked through the door.
Livergant enlisted Ross and Lutz to take care of Rachael Livergant, his 17-year-old daughter. Rachael's mother died of the same disease as Joel when Rachael was still a baby.
"[Rachael] is just absolutely solid as a rock," Lutz said.
"I think at some point she'll come to terms with the loss of both parents, but if she handles it the way she's handled everything else in her life she's going to be terrific and she's going to do great things."
Last week, Rachael turned to Ross and said "I guess you're my dads now."
"I just said 'yep, absolutely, we wouldn't have it any other way; you gained two dads,'" said Ross.
In the weeks before he checked himself into the hospital, Livergant celebrated being in remission and the return of his eyebrows following months of chemotherapy.
He visited his friends at the courthouse, sharing plans to return to work in the coming months.
But seven days before he died, Livergant checked himself into hospital, where doctors told him the cancer had returned.
News of his relapse spread within hours, like a rallying call for the troops to close in and show up. The guest log on the fifth floor of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre was full of names destined for room 566.
It was a steady stream until the afternoon of Thursday, March 21. Livergant spent his last 24 hours with Rachael and his stepdaughter, Danielle McLachlan, whom Joel loved as if she shared his DNA.
In 2003, the love of Livergant's life, his wife Samantha Livergant, died of cancer. Their daughter, Rachael, wasn't yet two years old.
Livergant had been practising at a law firm as a criminal defence lawyer, but after Samantha's death he worked for Legal Aid as duty counsel. It was more of a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job that allowed him to pick the girls up from school and be around on weekends.
In a high-stakes system that can be terrifyingly complicated, Livergant, in his role as duty counsel, saw dozens of people a day, helping them navigate the justice system.
"What always struck me about Joel was his loyalty to his clients and in return their loyalty to him," Assistant Chief provincial court Judge Joanne Durant said about her long-time friend.
"Sometimes he was delivering tough messages, but he always delivered them with compassion for the people he served."
Durant was one of the many who spent time at Livergant's bedside in his last days. Even at the end, he was still cracking jokes and trying to make people laugh.
Livergant has been making Durant laugh for years. One day in court, he was representing an accused person who was pleading guilty before her. Livergant made sure his client understood the implications of his plea.
"He said, 'and you know you are going to get a criminal record for all this shit right?'" explained Durant. "My head snapped up as did the sheriff's, but no one else even seemed to notice. The accused dutifully said 'Yeah.'"
After a break in court, the clerk and sheriff told Livergant what he'd let slip out and when Durant returned, he apologized profusely.
"While obviously it is unusual to hear that kind of language in court, from counsel that is, in some ways for me that was so Joel. He met people where they were."