John Duffy ’62 Honored for Helping Others Find Sobriety
The Caron Treatment Centers, a nation-wide organization devoted to addiction recovery, honored Villanova Law alumnus John J. Duffy ’62, by bestowing upon him its Award of Excellence. Duffy was honored for his legendary devotion to helping others find sobriety. He has been instrumental in helping more than 1,000 individuals find the road to recovery by introducing them to the Caron Treatment Centers. He currently sits on the Board of Trustees and is Chairman Emeritus.
Duffy’s philanthropic work started 37 years ago. After his own battle with alcohol lead to his initial visit to the Caron Treatment Center in 1974, he helped form Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, an assistance program offering confidential help to distressed and impaired lawyers, judges, law students and their family members to regain their good health and professional competency. The awards dinner honoring Duffy raised an impressive $475,000 in pledges for Caron scholarships.
Along with his work with recovering alcoholics, Duffy is a widely recognized criminal trial lawyer. Some of his defendants have included the Warlocks, Pagans and Mongols motorcycle gangs and those involved in the ABSCAM scandal. His trial experience runs the gamut of state and federal criminal prosecutions, including capital homicide cases, public corruption cases and complex drug and white collar conspiracy cases.
Duffy is a frequent lecturer and panelist in professional education and leadership programs, on behalf of and as a member of The National and Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American and Pennsylvania Bar Associations, and the American and Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association.
What made you decide on a career in criminal law and what would you advise law students wanting to pursue a career in this field?
I was born and raised in the Corktown section of Philadelphia where career choices were limited: priest, criminal, cop or lawyer. I aspired to the latter. The best advice I can give to law students is to learn how to speak, read and write. Do you want to do what I do? Come and watch me and trial lawyers who are better than I. Have law schools design a course that requires prospective criminal trial lawyers to spend eight or more hours a week witnessing criminal jury trials and reporting their observations and impressions in scholarly papers.
While at Villanova Law, which professor had the greatest impact on you?
Easy choice here: Thomas J. O'Toole, Vice Dean and affectionately referred to as T. J. O'Torts. Best torts teacher on the planet.
Which VLS class do you feel prepared you the most for your professional career?
Evidence as taught by Ernie Roberts.
Who has been your most influential mentor?
John Rogers Carroll, another sober drunk who was once my lawyer, then my partner and, for 37 years, my sponsor.
Looking back on your career, is there anything that surprised you about being in the legal field that you didn’t anticipate as a law student?
How huge a role whiskey and drugs play in the lives of trial lawyers.
What is the most important career lesson you have learned?
To live life one day at a time, sometimes one hour or one minute at a time.
Chief executive of The Caron Center, Doug Tieman, said of your philanthropic efforts, “No one has put more people into treatment, no one has attended more board meetings, and no one has spoken to more patient groups – not even Dick Caron”. Can you explain how the experience of sobriety has changed you personal outlook and as a professional?
My work with addicts and alcoholics is not praiseworthy; it's what keeps me sober. Doug Tieman's kind words are just that: kind words. They're OK as long as you don't inhale them.
Do you feel that the field of criminal law has changed since you first graduated?
The practice of criminal law today, as opposed to five decades ago, is not even remotely similar. Latin died by the early seventies. The rules--all the rules--have metamorphosed, I believe for the better. No longer is a guilty-pleading defendant's sentence dependent upon what the judge had for breakfast. Mystery and surprise have been effectively removed by rules that require disclosure. I believe that the playing field has been leveled to remove much of the edge the government always had.