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From Whitney Pier to Harvard: former Supreme Court justice dies

D. Merlin Nunn, who was born and raised in Whitney Pier, was 89.
D. Merlin Nunn, who was born and raised in Whitney Pier, was 89. CONTRIBUTED

Nova Scotia’s legal community has suffered a loss in the passing of a highly respected former Supreme Court justice and conflict of interest commissioner.

D. Merlin Nunn, who was born and raised in Whitney Pier, was 89.

“Justice Nunn was a formidable jurist whose passing will touch many in this province’s legal community,” Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Deborah K. Smith, said in a press release issued Friday.

“Whether it was his thoughtful and well-reasoned decisions in the courtroom or the countless hours he committed to the Inquiry into a local teacher’s death, Justice Nunn served Nova Scotians with passion and integrity."

Nunn was appointed to the Supreme Court trial division in September 1982. He retired in November 2005. 

“I know I speak on behalf of all his former judicial colleagues when I say that Justice Nunn will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and condolences are with his friends and loved ones during this difficult time,” said Smith.

“His incredible ability took him from Whitney Pier to Harvard,” said former chief justice Joe Kennedy, when contacted Friday.

Nunn held several university degrees including a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of education from St. Francis Xavier University. He graduated with his law degree from Dalhousie University in 1957 and went on to obtain his masters in law from Harvard University. 

Kennedy recalled that while a student in law school at Dalhousie, Nunn was a regular lecturer and earned the nickname “super lawyer.”

That name changed to “super judge” when the two sat together on the Supreme Court.

As a former chief justice, Kennedy would be responsible for ensuring backlogs of cases were cleaned up so the process would continue to run smoothly.

“We had a backlog in Sydney and he went down to work it out. Within three weeks, he had settled 28 cases that were scheduled to go to trial. He cleaned up that docket all by himself.”

“I guess I kind of idolized him for his remarkable ability as a lawyer and a judge,” said Kennedy, adding that Nunn always gave his best to any project.

“His incredible ability took him from Whitney Pier to Harvard,” — former chief justice Joe Kennedy

A major part of his legacy rests with a provincial inquiry – the Nunn Commission — he chaired in 2005 that laid the groundwork for changes in how Canada deals with young offenders.

The inquiry probed the death of Halifax resident Theresa McEvoy, 52, a mother of three and a teacher’s aide. She was killed when the vehicle she was driving was slammed by another vehicle driven by a youth a high rate of speed.

The vehicle driven by the youth was stolen and the youth had erroneously been released from jail two days prior to the 2004 accident.

His report, Spiralling Out of Control: Lessons from a Boy in Trouble, focused on how charges against the youth were handled in the days leading up to his release and the fatal car accident.

He was admitted to the Nova Scotia bar in 1958 and in 1959, became the assistant to the vice president of industrial relations at Algoma Steel Corporation in Ontario before joining a Halifax law firm.

Kennedy said baseball was also a key element in Nunn’s life both as a player and a fan. He was also involved in a number of community agencies and groups.

After completing his commission report, Nunn was appointed the province’s conflict of interest commissioner, a position he went on to hold for almost 21 years. Kennedy would later follow Nunn into the same position.


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