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Balancing Act


Community, family anchor defence lawyer's life
Booker T. Washington, an equal rights advocate and founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the late 1800s, once said; "No man who continues to add something to the material, intellectual and moral well-being of the place in which he lives is left long without proper reward."

Whether or not Mr. Washington was correct in his assumption that the proper reward awaits all community contributors, it is inarguable that it should. It is also inarguable that Patrick Ducharme, criminal defence lawyer extraordinare, is due all the success that surrounds him for the contributions he makes in this community. As a lawyer for nearly 30 years and sessional lecturer for the faculty of law at the University of Windsor for close to 25 years, Ducharme's contributions have been moral, intellectual, material and abundant.

"I enjoy the teaching process and hopefully I am giving something back to my profession," says Ducharme. "It (teaching) keeps me young and interested and involved. I owe a great debt to my students."

Having just celebrated his 55th birthday, Ducharme is at his professional peak. He is a partner and head of the criminal law department in one of the area's largest law firms, Ducharme Fox LLP, at 800 University Ave. W. Over the years he has educated others in his profession, penned numerous articles and papers (www.ducharmefox.com), given countless public lectures and served on various committees and professional organizations. For all that, Ducharme has received many honours. Most recently, he was the 2004 recipient of the Windsor & District Chamber of Commerce's Business Professional of the Year award and the Essex County Law Association's 2004 Charles Clarke Award fo Professional Integrity and Community Service.

Most notably, he has built a reputation as a courtroom powerhouse, representing an array of clients from NHL hockey heroes to porn goddesses to accused murderers. He knows most certainly that it is not about winning or losing, but how knowledgeable you are about the law.

"I'm realistic enough to know that I can lose," says Ducharme. But "a good lawyer is defined as one who does not lose the cases he should win."

Ducharme takes his role as a lawyer to broader horizons, believing it is not enough just to provide legal counsel to his clients. He views it as his duty to his community to be more.

"You have got to be bigger then their legal representation," says Ducharme. "You have got to get those people turned around and go to the court with a plan."

An example is the case of Kevin Holinsky, a drunk driver whose tragic mistake killed two of his best friends. Holinsky became a spokesman, speaking at countless high schools, his mangled car on display. The victims parents supported the court's decision to make Holinsky a messenger telling the young public not to drink and drive.

While plans vary and each case is different, Ducharme makes it a priority to give it the full concern, empathy and attention it deserves. He appreciates that being accused of a criminal offense is a pivotal, life-altering event and he defends each person with the same passion as if it were his own reputation or that of a family member at stake.

"You have to walk a mile with him/her," says Ducharme, who recognizes that these are very significant moments in their lives. "There is no such thing as a small criminal allegation. It is never meaningless."

Of course standing alongside the accused can be an unpopular position and Ducharme is no stranger to the negativity that comes with it. He understands that this bias "comes with the territory," and has developed a healthy perception of what may be the public's opinion.

"It's not surprising to me that people sometimes mistake a lawyer who represents drunk driving cases, or drug offenses as someone who condones that kind of behaviour," Ducharme admits. But, he adds, "They (my clients) are people too (and) they are entitled to have a good representation."

Providing good representation in matters that are far from pretty is a spirit-breaking burden, but Ducharme relies on his supportive family to sustain him. The essential guidance and daily assistance from Ducharme's longtime assistant, Bonnie, also helps to keep him grounded. "She is a fundamental part of my practice," he says.

"My wife of 33 years (Janice) is my best friend. We have two children living in Panama City and both are very well accomplished. I interact with them every day. They are all uninvolved in the law and crime still horrifies them when they read about it. I think that's how I keep my equilibrium."

When your job is to walk miles alongside the accused, equilibrium is a sacred treasure.

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