Ted Burns: insightful, intuitive, intelligent, industrious

When Ted Burns brought his enthusiasm for law to a small set of offices on Collier St, Barrie was a community of 24,000 people and opening a law practice took some money and alot of courage.

And now, 30 years later, the legal and judicial community in Barrie and most of Simcoe County has bowed its collective head in respect for the man who arrived here, opened the doors on a practice with Kevin Carroll, and moved through his legal career with quiet humility and great insight.

Ted Burns’ legal career ended, in a way, in mid-February with his premature death. He passed away at his Dunlop St home, days after collapsing at the Belleville-area home of his father-in-law.

His career ended in one way as Ted is no longer at the helm of the litigation portion of a 20 year law partnership with Marvin Menzies. His career will live on, indefinitely, in the example he set for so many other lawyers in the region.

As his early Barrie partner, Kevin Carroll well remembers meeting Ted when the two were serving as junior lawyers in the Toronto law firm, Thomson Rogers. Ted had juniored to the esteemed John Fitzpatrick who was a senior litigation partner at Gardner Roberts. Fitzpatrick went on to become a Supreme Court of Ontario judge. His relationship with Ted Burns was never severed. Kevin is quick to point out that Judge Fitpatrick had no tolerance for lawyers who weren’t very good.

As Burns and Carroll earned their spurs at Thomson Rogers, starting early and working late, starting families and participating in the exhaustion that is the young law career, it occurred to both of them that there might be room for a good litigation and general practice lawyers in the Barrie area.

“Ted was living in Oakville and was tired of spending hundreds of hours in the car, arriving early in the morning, leaving late at night. It was a burdensome existence and the commute was a chore. We got chatting one day about it. He had a friend in Kitchener with a practice for sale. We talked about that. We decided on Barrie, Kevin remembers.

And so Burns & Carroll set up in a couple of offices at 39 Collier St., using sparse funds, lots of intestinal fortutude and their raw skill. They took just about any legal work that came through the door, of course, but the developed specialties with Kevin in criminal work; Ted in real estate. As time went on, Ted move into what’s called Chambers practice, where his cases were tried before a judge, in the judge’s chambers.

The firm merged during the 70’s with Dennis Tascona and Marvin Menzies, and then again with Wilson, Palmer, Bumstead. In the early 80’s, Kevin and Ted redirected their efforts, and Burns & Carroll separated to form new law partnerships.

And so for the past two decades, Ted Burns’ law partnership was with Marvin Menzies, his colleague, his friend. And the two worked in offices down the hall from each other, overlooking the water from 89 Dunlop St E. They socialized. They coffeed. They challenged each other. They advised each other. They listened to each other. But they never got involved in each other’s files.

Ted’s death three weeks ago has created a hole that Marvin Menzies doubts can be filled.

“Ted’s strength was his talent, his approach to law and his knowledge of law. You can talk to anybody in the county who’s dealt with him, even people he’s beaten badly in trials and his manner was so subtle and so astute… he was the best commercial litigator north of Toronto.

“Other lawyers say they’ll miss him because he was a valuable resource; he could solve problems. The judiciary respected him. Judges asked him what he thought.”

And yet, the constraints on a judge were not something that Ted Burns aspired to. His free thought and free spirit would have been hampered by judiciary constraints.

What separates Ted Burns from many litigators was his style. Many litigators are often confrontational. “They put down their visor, lift up their lance and march in. They have a purpose and they try to accomplish it. That was not Ted’s style. His style was to accomplish what his client needed without a battle and he was very good at it.

“Even those who didn’t like him, liked him,” comments Marvin.

Marvin continues to be susprised by the cards and charitable contribution notices coming to the office and Ted’s house from people who had real battles with him. It was a sign of a tremendous measure of professional respect.

And so, as we bid farewell to a legal pillar in our community, it gives us pause, a moment to reflect on the Barrie that Ted arrived to, his tremendous contribution over three decades of work, and his rightful place among the senior lawyers in this region. Earned. All of it earned.

And both his former and his present law partners were in agreement about Ted Burns’ humility. While he enjoyed victories and appreciated the respect given to him by younger lawyers, Ted never sought the limelight. Kevin Carroll sums it up:

“He was a very good listener; he kept quiet while people were telling their story., He absorbed their information and asked incisive questions. Then he’d tell them whether or not they had a case. But he never disclosed his client’s interests beyond what was ethically acceptable. He never looked for the limelight.”

And that was Ted Burns. Thanks, Ted. Fare well.