Ducharme Disputes Free Press Allegations

Patrick J. Ducharme

This is a newspaper article written by Patrick Ducharme in the Detroit Free Press. Ducharme was allowed to write this article as part of a settlement for damages after he commenced an action against the Free Press and sports writer Keith Gave. The cash settlement paid by the Free Press to Ducharme was donated to Sick Children’s Hospital.

[This case is now used in journalism classes in Canada and the United States as an example of the difference between the rules of legal proof in libel and slander cases in the two countries. The action was brought in Ontario. The lawyers for the defendants attempted to have the case transferred to Michigan. The advantage to the defendants if the case was transferred to a U.S.
jurisdiction would be that the plaintiff would be required to prove malice. In Canadian jurisdictions, the onus of proof is upon the defendants to establish that what they have published is true once the plaintiff proves what was said and proves that it was libelous or slanderous.]

Lawyers understand that from time to time their efforts and the motives underlying their efforts on behalf of clients can be misconstrued or misunderstood. So, a lawyer defending an individual charged with impaired driving in a case involving a fatality may hear that he thereby condones
drinking and driving, or, if he defends a person charged with a narcotics offense, that he tolerates drug abuse.

One important pre-condition to a successful law practice is the willingness of lawyers to at once respect and tolerate such criticism even if they feel it is occasionally misguided.

But what a lawyer surely does not respect, and need not ever tolerate, is a type of criticism such as that found in a column written by a hockey reporter named Keith Gave and published a few weeks ago in this newspaper.

In that column, Gave suggested that I was the cause of Bob Probert’s problems with the law and with the Red Wings, that I had consistently misguided Bob, and that I had done so because I had put an interest in money and my own ego before the best interests of my client.

The carping, negative tone of the article didn’t bother me much. In fact, that aspect of it was fairly typical of the columns Gave normally writes. But the distortions of fact were so numerous, and so obvious to anyone at least remotely familiar with Bob Probert’s relationship with the Red Wings and with me as his lawyer and agent, that ignorance alone could not account for their presence.

My counsel, Harvey Strosberg, advised me to sue because the article was libelous, and I gave the Free Press notice of my intention to do so, which, in Ontario, is a pre-condition to the issuance of a lawsuit for libel. And now, as a way of settling my claim against Gave and the newspaper, the Free Press has
agreed to donate $5,000 U.S. in my name and Bob Probert’s name to a charity of my choice and to allow me to respond today to Gave’s allegations. But first a bit of background.

Gave’s failure to report the Probert story accurately goes back to a time in 1988 when he reported, falsely, that Bob was encountering financial difficulties and had been forced to move out of his apartment. His information for that story, he said, was an unnamed Red Wings source.

In truth, Bob had a considerable amount of money in the bank; he moved out of the apartment in question because at the time the Immigration authorities had prohibited him from entering the United States. Forced to reside in Windsor, he decided as a matter of common sense to save the rent on the Detroit residence.

Bob and I asked Gave to retract the story. He initially refused. Nor would he reveal his “unnamed Red Wings source.” Later, after another columnist reported that those comments were false, Gave reported comments from me disputing his assertion that Bob was having financial problems.

All the while, he continued to press Bob and me for interviews. Now, on my advice, Bob refused, though he did agree to an interview with the columnist for a competing newspaper. When, subsequently, a series of articles appeared in the Hockey News relating to Bob’s recent smuggling charge and my relationship to my client, Gave apparently couldn’t take being on the
outside anymore.

Hurricane Keith exploded and, as the storm blew, all concern for accuracy, for reportorial distance, vanished altogether: I caused Bob’s problems; I forced him back upon the Red Wings; I failed to assist him in his rehabilitation; I connived to get my picture, not the athlete’s on a magazine cover. On and on, the litany of sins.

Here, now, are just a few of the facts the hockey reporter might have gotten straight with even a modest amount of initiative or good will.

Fact: I didn’t force the Red Wings to take Bob back from suspension. I reminded them that by the express terms of his contract they had a duty to pay him whether or not they played him.

Fact: Far from failing to recognize Bob’s substance abuse problems, I met with the Red Wings perhaps 40 or more times to discuss the subject, and I personally enrolled him or assisted in enrolling him (sometimes at considerable expense) in the following treatment and counseling
programs: Sacred Heart, Detroit; The Brentwood Recovery Home, Windsor; Brighton Hospital, Brighton, Mich., The Betty Ford Center, Rancho Mirage, Calif.; and the facility in which Bob currently resides.

For the times when Bob was not actually in attendance at one of these treatment centers, I arranged for 13 separate counselors to assist him virtually every day, sometimes 24 hours a day, in acknowledging and coping with his addiction.

Bob is with me now even as I write this article, and he acknowledges that one of his major problems in the past was the failure not only to appreciate all the help extended to him but also to admit that he even had an addiction in the first place.

Fact: I represented Bob on seven criminal charges, including two impaired drivings, one breach of probation, one charge of driving a vehicle while prohibited, and one charge of driving without insurance. For these offenses, Bob received from the courts fines totaling $2,000.

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Ducharme Disputes Free Press Allegations, by Patrick Ducharme