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Madam Justice Mara Greene, the only female hockey-playing judge among a roster of about two dozen judges at Toronto's Old City Hall, walks to work after an early morning hockey practice in Toronto, Feb. 22, 2017. (MICHELLE SIU/NYT)
Madam Justice Mara Greene, the only female hockey-playing judge among a roster of about two dozen judges at Toronto's Old City Hall, walks to work after an early morning hockey practice in Toronto, Feb. 22, 2017. (MICHELLE SIU/NYT)

She's Madam Justice by day, freewheeling hockey player by night Add to ...

A stuffed Easton equipment bag and a hockey stick were propped against the wall in the chambers of Madam Justice Mara Greene.

They made for an odd sight, competing for space with law books and reference material.

But it is not unusual for those who know the hockey passion of Greene, who presides over criminal matters at Old City Hall, a provincial courthouse in the downtown core.

“I love hockey in a way that I can barely describe,” said the bespectacled Greene, a 47-year-old mother of two who is a bundle of kinetic energy. “I like watching hockey. But I don’t love watching it the same way I love playing it.”

Greene is helping to redefine the work-life balance in Canada’s justice system.

Along with skating in a women’s hockey league and taking skills lessons, she is an assistant coach of her daughter’s hockey team. Sometimes, when she needs to clear her head, she spends her lunch break skating alone on the outdoor rink at city hall, adjacent to the courthouse.

Greene is the only female hockey-playing judge among a roster of about two dozen judges, including 10 women, at the Queen Street courthouse, opening her up for quizzical looks as she totes her equipment into the courthouse and up to her office.

“You probably wouldn’t have seen that 20 years ago,” said Janet Leiper, 55, a lawyer who plays on a team with Greene on Monday nights.

Greene gives only faint recognition to the stark contrast between the austere judge she is by day and the freewheeling player she is by night.

She is not alone in her puck pursuits. Two male criminal judges at Old City Hall — Rick Libman, 60, and Steven Clark, 66 — play pickup hockey.

Judges here have been known to prefer racket sports, cycling or jogging in an effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

League hockey, because of its intense nature, is relatively uncommon for judges. Age works against them. By the time they are appointed to the bench, they are usually in their later years, and competitive hockey is often shelved for something less physically demanding.

Still a few years shy of 50, Greene has a youthful energy, although she is rather late to the game. She took up hockey shortly after being appointed a judge in 2009.

When Clark became a judge 15 years ago, there was a different mindset about how to manage stress.

“It was a work hard, play hard thing,” he said. “But the play hard wasn’t playing hockey. The play hard was to go and drink and stay late in your office until your kids are in bed because your wife is looking after that, and then you go home.”

The current generation would typically go to the gym, not to the bar, if a trial was shortened.

“That’s our play hard,” Clark said.

Leiper, a criminal and administrative lawyer, said women in the Toronto legal community see hockey and other sports as a way to blow off steam.

“I think a whole bunch of people realize now that going out drinking is not a sustainable way to manage stress,” Leiper said.

She takes a group of women surfing each year in Costa Rica.

“We make sure we get some balance in our lives,” Leiper said.

Greene, who has delivered judgments in cases involving sex abuse, human trafficking and unlawful police detentions, receives positive feedback when she is spotted toting her hockey bag and stick around.

“She wears her passion for hockey on her sleeve and I wouldn’t be surprised if she conceals a hockey jersey under her robes on some days,” the criminal defense lawyer Edward Prutschi said in an email.

He said that by such open displays, Greene shows the human side of judges.

“We see them in their black robes, seated up high on a dais, and accord them all the respect and solemnity that the justice system deserves,” Prutschi said. “But it’s worth remembering that they were people before they were judges.”

On the ice, of course, the judges are on an equal footing with defense lawyers, prosecutors and police, who are natural adversaries in the courtroom.

The ice is no place to even the score or take out grudges. There is no hitting, even if the letter of the law is not always observed.

“It’s non-contact hockey,” Greene said of her women’s league. “Now,” she pauses for effect, “there is incidental contact,” she said, emphasizing the word “incidental.”

The judge laughed.

On Greene’s desk sits a small gavel. Next to it is a rather ordinary-looking puck. But it’s not ordinary for her. It represents her first goal in competitive hockey a couple of years ago.

Sometimes, the worlds of hockey and justice collide in her courtroom.

Last year, she sentenced the convicted pedophile Gordon Stuckless to six and a half years in prison for crimes that occurred decades ago, when Stuckless was an equipment manager at Maple Leaf Gardens, the former home of Toronto’s NHL team. Using his position of trust, Stuckless lured boys with promises of free hockey tickets.

In a twist, Greene takes hockey skills lessons at the same rink, now called the Mattamy Athletic Center.

Growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Greene was not drawn to the sport, although she had a brother who played.

It was only after taking her son to the hockey rink that Greene decided to take an adult skills course.

With a friend, she threw caution to the wind and purchased all the equipment before even taking a lesson.

“We were laughing as we’re buying this,” Greene recalled. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Are we really going to use this? Are we going to play hockey now?’”

Early on, she warned the instructor, “’I’m here today, but I’m not sure I’m going to be back tomorrow or next week.’ But I kept coming back. It’s really hard going weekly to something you’re terrible at.”

She did not skate well and could not shoot the puck. But Greene saw the value in taking on a new skill, which, as an adjunct professor at Osgoode Law School, is important in understanding her students’ learning struggles.

“By the time we get into our 40s, we stop trying new things,” Greene said. “We’re used to being competent. All of a sudden being incompetent is really hard. It was really humbling.”

Through the learning curve is steep, her ego has not taken a hit.

“In fairness, my self-esteem is not invested in my hockey playing,” she said with a laugh.

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