John Josiah Robinette was born in Toronto on November 20, 1906.
His father Thomas C. Robinette, was a criminal defense lawyer defending such notable cases as the police killer, Fred Rice in 1901.
T.C. Robinette worked out of a home office so the young John had daily exposure to the practice of law.
In 1923, he entered the University of Toronto at the tender age of 16. In 1926, he entered Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, finishing first in his class upon graduation. He articled at Donald, Mason, White & Foulds in Toronto and on June 20, 1929, was called to the bar but then took a job as a teacher back at the law school. That job got him safely through the Great Depression.
He married in 1930 and in 1932, he added a prestigious part-time job, editor of the Ontario Reports.
In 1933, he quit teaching and entered the practice of law in Toronto. Slowly but surely, his reputation grew. On March 8, 1938, he appeared as counsel before the Supreme Court of Canada, the first of over 150 appearances, more than any other lawyer.
In 1941, he was counsel in Heil v Heil, an odd marriage annulment case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.
He joined the firm of Lawson Trebilcock & Stratton in the early 1940s.
In 1945, he became a household name in Canada as the lawyer for Mrs. Evelyn Dick. She was convicted of the murder of her husband and another man, based on statements she had given to the police detectives. She was sentenced to hang.
On appeal, she changed lawyers and turned to Robinette. He got the conviction set aside and a new trial. For that new trial, Evelyn Dick kept Robinette. On the charge of murdering her husband, she was found not guilty. But in a later trial, she was accused of the murder of the other man and found guilty of manslaughter.
in 1949, John Robinette joined McCarthy & McCarthy in Toronto. He was handed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada against a restrictive covenant in Toronto allowing the sale of the specified real property only to "persons of the white or Caucasian race". Robinette won the case (Noble v Alley) and the racist restrictive covenant was ruled invalid, but not because it was racist - it was held to be an uncertain term.
By 1980, he was at his height when the government of Canada retained him to assist in the development of a substantial amendment to the Canadian constitution. The matter was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada, Re: Resolution to amend the Constitution but Robinette's client was not successful.
Robinette died in some sadness, in 1996, after a six year battle with Alzeimer. George Finlayson, a biographer, wrote that he had been left "isolated at the Central Park Lodge on Spadina Avenue".
- Aaron, B., "Lawyer Robinette Played Key Civil Rights Role", Toronto Star, November 29, 2003
- Batter, J., Robinette: The Dean of Canadian Lawyers (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1984)
- Duhaime, Lloyd, The Law's Hall of Fame
- Finlayson, G., John J. Robinette, Peerless Mentor: An Appreciation (Toronto: Osgoode Society, 2003)
- Heil v Heil 1942 SCR 160
- Noble v Alley 1951 S.C.R. 64
- Re: Resolution to amend the Constitution 1981 1 SCR 753
- Ross v. Lamport 1956 SCR 366
- R v Dick (1947) 2 DLR 213