The bench at the Prince Rupert courthouse will look a lot different in the coming weeks, as for the first time in 18 years it will be without the services of Judge Herman Seidemann.
The veteran judge is stepping down after decades of both trying and hearing impactful cases. Interestingly though it was a rather circuitous route that saw Seidemann land in the city he has now called home for 42 years.
Seidemann was born in Germany, his father serving as an officer in the American army following World War II. The family moved to the United States soon after, settling in the big sky country of Montana and Idaho. After obtaining a physics degree at the University of Washington, it was off to New Brunswick to teach high school.
Following a short stay in the Maritimes, it was onto to Vancouver, where Seidemann hoped to pursue a degree in teaching at the University of British Columbia. However, “UBC was not being cooperative in that,” said Seidemann, sparking a career shift into the legal field.
“Our laws are the rules by which we play the game of life. I was interested in all of them,” said Seidemann on his new pursuit.
|Judge Seidemann is well known for the artwork that adorned his chambers. Here he poses with one of his favourite pieces collected over the years. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)|
Diving headlong into his new profession, Seidemann clerked at the BC Supreme Court for a year after graduation, before trading in the hustle and bustle of Vancouver for the pristine serenity of Prince Rupert.
“I grew up in a small town, and I wanted to go back to live in a small town,” said Seidemann when explaining his sizeable change of scenery. He also expressed his desire to be on the ocean, having fallen for the sea during his time in Seattle and Vancouver.
But perhaps the biggest draw was, as it is for many people contemplating a move, the presence of family in Prince Rupert. Seidemann’s brother and sister were each embracing an approach of “hippies back to the land” on nearby Porcher Island. While Seidemann did not necessarily adopt his siblings’ choice of lifestyle, he did choose to make Prince Rupert his home, working as an articled student and soon after a lawyer for the next 24 years.
Seidemann developed a specialty in cases involving fishery law, dealing with a number of matters including compliance with the Fisheries Act, dealing with licencing issues, as well as agreements between fishermen.
Seidemann became especially interested in cases involving the fishing rights of First Nations groups. He recalls one of his most memorable cases as being when he was able to influence policy regarding First Nations claims to catch certain types of fish. While Seidemann was appointed to a judgeship partway through the case, ultimately it was determined that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had not acted appropriately in their dealings with the groups. Now, First Nations groups are able to legally keep part of their catch for ceremonial purposes.
In 2001 Seidemann ascended to the bench where he has served since. Reflecting on his career from his corner chambers on the third floor of the Prince Rupert Courthouse, Seidemann recounts some of the changes he has seen in the legal system during his service.
“We see far less young persons in court now then we did when I first started. And that’s good. We’re getting them out of this system unless they present a real threat to us,” he said.
|Judge Seidemann pauses in his chambers to think back on his affecting career. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)|
Seidemann is also happy with how stricter laws surrounding impaired driving have influenced people’s attitudes. “I used to do an impaired driving trial every week. Now I may do an impaired driving trial every 3 or 4 months. So that’s much better. It has actually changed people’s behaviours,” said Seidemann.
Now heading into retirement, Seidemann says he is leaving his job pleased with his time. “I feel that I have contributed something. I think I have done some good there, and I’m going to miss that opportunity to do that.”
As for what he will do next, Seidemann is planning to spend plenty of time in the place he has called home for over four decades. “I’m building a shop in my backyard where I intend to spend a lot of time. We have a cottage on Porcher Island where we spend a lot of time. I’m happy that several of my children have returned to Prince Rupert, and my grandchildren are living here in Prince Rupert. I have every intention of staying here and spending time with them.”
Seidemann has one other goal planned for his newfound time off, one that when successful will certainly put him back in the Prince Rupert spotlight. “I’m in the process of trying to build a working model of a steam rail locomotive that’s big enough to ride around on.”
Alex Kurial | Journalist
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