For a former English professor who never intended to practice law, Windsor’s Edward Ducharme sure has made a mark in the justice system.
Ducharme, 68, only entered law in his mid-40s yet he was just appointed a judge on the highest court in the province: The Ontario Court of Appeal.
“When I was doing my doctoral work, I became interested in a theoretical problem,” said Ducharme, who holds a BA and MA in English, a PhD in English and education and a law degree. “Where is the meaning of a text? Where is the meaning of Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
“Is it found in the words on the printed page? Or is it found in the intention of the author? Or is it found in the mind of the reader?”
Ducharme’s philosophical quandary spilled over to the legal world, since he also wondered about the interpretive nature of legal decisions. Since he liked the idea of expanding his area of interest, he toyed with the idea of studying law.
“I never intended to practice law,” said Ducharme Tuesday in his bright and nicely appointed Riverside Drive home, decorated here and there with original art. “I meant only to inquire about that issue: Where is the meaning of a legal text?”
His dying mother Teresa actually helped seal his fate, on a trip to her room at what was then Metropolitan Hospital.
“I said to her, ‘What do you think of the idea of me studying law?’” recalled Ducharme. “And she sat right up in her bed and she said, ‘That’s a fabulous idea! Promise me you’ll practice with your brother.’”
He actually ended up articling for Harvey Strosberg and Patrick Ducharme, his brother and a high-profile Windsor criminal lawyer six years his junior, before toiling as a lawyer at the firm.
“Our entire family is very proud of him,” Patrick said by phone from Toronto, where he is working on a trial. “He is perfectly suited for a position on the Court of Appeal bench. An appellate judge is required on a daily basis to write decisions that are meaningful, understandable and effective. He has wonderful writing skills and also brings tremendous analytical capabilities.”
After starting as a lawyer in 1990, Ducharme was appointed in 2002 as a Superior Court judge in Chatham. In 2009 he was appointed the regional senior justice in London.
Two weeks ago, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson called Ducharme to ask if he would take a position on the Court of Appeal in Toronto.
Ducharme grew up on Josephine Avenue and said he adored his life as a professor at the University of Windsor. His siblings, his lawyer wife Carolyn Gray and stepdaughter Sarah are from Windsor, where he plans to retire.
So is the high bench in Toronto, not even on this literature fan’s radar some years ago, really his calling?
Ducharme found the answer, perhaps, in one of the philosophers he reads daily from the collection of books found in every room of his house.
“Trust thyself,” Ducharme said, reading from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem Self Reliance. “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you.”
Ducharme will be officially sworn in May 29 at a ceremony at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall.