Retired Court of Queen’s Bench Justice William (Bill) Tilleman has been described as the “nicest man in the world,” he loves the law as well as farming and ranching, and he credits his parents and wife Sandra as being responsible for almost everything he has accomplished in his life.
Justice Tilleman, who retired on Jan. 12, 2021, after serving a little over 11 years on the Bench, was honoured at a Jan. 28 online Swearing-Out Ceremony which was attended by multiple judges from both the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Court of Appeal, as well as family and court staff.
QB Associate Chief Justice John Rooke was the host and he, as well as QB Chief Justice Mary Moreau, former QB Chief Justice Neil Wittmann, Chief Justice of Alberta Catherine Fraser and QB Associate Chief Justice Ken Nielsen, praised Justice Tilleman for his work ethic, insightful judicial decisions and academic accomplishments.
Chief Justice Moreau described Justice Tilleman as hard working and “a gentleman through and through,” noting “Bill, you have made our Court very proud.”
Chief Justice Fraser paid Justice Tilleman a very high compliment indeed by asking him if he would share his vast experience conducting judicial dispute resolutions (JDRs) with Court of Appeal Justices.
Court of Appeal Justice Jolaine Antonio was one of the many attendees to take the virtual podium and she recounted how every person she ever had a conversation with, in which Justice Tilleman’s name was brought up, would invariably describe him as being the “nicest man in the world.”
The ever-humble Justice Tilleman was the last official speaker after Sandra told the more than 100 online attendees that meeting and marrying him was like “winning the lottery.” He simply thanked everyone and said he was “amazed” by the turnout at what he called a “surreal” event.
The following day he said he was still “stunned” by the accolades he had received and remarked that it felt “like they were speaking about somebody else.”
Justice Tilleman was born and raised in Utah, Wisconsin and Montana, where he fell in love with farming and ranching. His family spent a lot of time in Montana as it was just south of the border from where his grandmother was born and raised in southern Saskatchewan.
While in high school in Wisconsin in the early 1970s, Justice Tilleman also attended university classes during his free periods and worked at a variety of jobs, including being a commercial fisherman on the Mississippi River and a stevedore, where he weighed the big trucks and arranged the offloading of corn and soybeans onto barges to be sent down the river to New Orleans.
He then left Wisconsin for southern Brazil where he worked as a missionary from 1974 to 1976. Upon his return, he continued his schooling at the University of Calgary, while also working in the Arctic Ocean area after freeze-up doing seismic and survey plots. As well, he would return to the family farm each summer to help seeding, harvesting and plowing its huge fields.
Justice Tilleman graduated from four law schools, wryly describing himself as a “slow learner,” including the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, Brigham Young University and the Columbia University School of Law. He accumulated a Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B), a Juris Doctorate degree (JD), a Master of Laws degree (LL.M) and a Doctor of the Science of Law degree (JSD).
As a result of his graduate education being focused on the environment, not to mention his teenage years working on banding and nesting projects for migratory birds, Justice Tilleman started prosecuting and defending environmental cases in Alberta and was counsel to federal environmental tribunals and boards.
His practice was mostly chairing Alberta’s Boards, including the Environmental Appeals Board, Persons with Developmental Disabilities Appeal Board, Energy and Utilities Board, Public Utilities Board, and Acting Chair of the Energy Resources Conservation Board. He was also Alberta’s Chair and CEO of Alberta’s Energy and Utilities Board.
He applied to be a judge because his wife asked him to as he had always enjoyed public service and realized that was exactly what judges do. “We help people,” he says.
Reflecting on his time on the Bench, Justice Tilleman says his best moments would include Bar admissions and adoptions with oral evidence. “The first part grows the Bar and the second part grows a family,” he says.
And he definitely knows something about family as he and his wife of 41 years have four children and 12 grandchildren.
“Anything good that ever came to me was because of my parents and Sandra,” he says.
Justice Tilleman also says he found constitutional cases or challenges the most interesting, but discovered his favorite cases were judicial dispute resolutions (JDRs), bringing together former spouses, parents and even competing CEOs who took their bitter disputes to court.
“I’m always thrilled when they not only resolve their issues, but reconcile their differences, and that includes hugs and shaking of hands (at least before the pandemic),” he says.
So, it is fitting that Justice Tilleman is returning to the Court to work part time as a QB Resolution Officer.
He is also not planning to spend his retirement in a lawn chair. He has a long history of publishing legal articles and books and is currently co-authoring a book titled JDR – A New Courtroom with Professor Lawrence Susskind, who teaches at both Harvard and MIT. As well, he will squeeze in some teaching and private mediation and arbitration work.
He also plans to spend more time with Sandra and their family, get further involved with his church, continue the never-ending work on the farm and tuck in some horseback riding and hiking.
Justice Tilleman says he will surely miss his judicial colleagues and the numerous court staff members who assisted him on a daily basis and will always gratefully remember his mentor, retired QB Justice Robert Cairns, and the Chiefs and Associate Chiefs who supported him.