Hurley’s wife was born on a farm in Marysville, not far from Belleville, and the latter town struck Hurley, a native of Toronto,
as a logical place to practise law. It turned out to be better than logical. As far as Hurley was concerned, Belleville was perfect.
Hurley grew up a Catholic kid in Toronto's east end. He attended St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto and then Osgoode Hall, where he received his call to the bar in 1950. In Belleville, which Hurley found ideal and welcoming from the start, he joined a firm that included three other lawyers; one of them was a remarkable counsel who had a lasting impact on the way Hurley handled himself in the courts. This counsel was Malcolm Robb, eleven years older than Hurley, a Second World War veteran and an advocate who was in the process of defining his courtroom technique. Robb practised for most of his career in Toronto, but he lived and worked in Belleville from 1947 to 1954, which was just long enough to teach young Ben Hurley a thing or two.
Robb went at trial preparation with acute precision, and in the courtroom he radiated conviction. These were attitudes and traits that Robb passed on to the willing Hurley. “When Malcolm wasn’t satisfied with what I did in a case,” Hurley said, “he had a direct way of making his dissatisfaction plain to me.” So it was that the Hurley approach followed the Robb model.
Perhaps, ironically, Hurley never set out to become exclusively a litigator. As he frequently told his five children (two future lawyers among them), many of their university fees and school boarding costs were paid out of real estate deals. But over the years, as word of Hurley’s committed and diligent style in the courts spread through the Belleville area, his practice gravitated
to litigation of both the civil and the criminal variety. Belleville didn't have enough crime to keep a counsel occupied at anything close to full time.
Real property cases became a small specialty for Hurley. Toronto lawyers of his generation could put in a lifetime of practice without encountering a single case
in real property law, but Hurley took nine or ten such cases a year. They were fundamental to life in rural Ontario: disputes over property lines, arguments about possession of land as opposed to paper title, fights centred on rights of way.
Hurley developed a knack with the arcana of real property.
He discovered other ways in which a country counsel’s practice differed from those of his city brothers. Even though Hurley conducted the array of cases familiar to any counsel – contest wills, matrimonial breakdowns, automotive claims, an amazing murder case that he won with a defence of automatism – he found that one major difference in practising in a corner of eastern Ontario lay in the regularity with which he went to court against the same small group of counsel. This fact of litigation life, unknown to most urban barristers, required a deft hand, a need for Hurley to learn the other counsels’ tricks without revealing his own. In a pinch, when he stumbled into a tricky legal backwater, he phoned his mentor and friend, Malcolm Robb, who was always available with advice.
In 1976 Hurley went to the bench and remained happily there until the last possible moment. On his mandatory retirement
at age seventy-five, he said with the mock grumpy humour that identified him, “I resented that I was turned out of a job I loved
at high noon on April 18, 2002.” In the following years he took mediation work, sat on the Pension Appeal Board, and reflected on the two wise moves of a half-century earlier that landed him in Belleville, the perfect place to practise law.
as taken from the pages of 'Learned Friends A Tribute to Fifty Remarkable Ontario Advocates, 1950-2000' by Jack Batten