Moncton's DUI Doctor is off the docket because of stroke

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Moncton's DUI Doctor is off the docket because of stroke

Wendell Maxwell is such an ingrained part of New Brunswick's justice system, that his health is affecting the court schedules.

The 77-year-old criminal lawyer specializes in defending people accused of driving impaired, and he has the vanity licence plates to prove it. 

The plates on Maxwell's big black SUV read DUI DR.

But as he woke up one morning last December, it was apparent something was wrong.  

"I couldn't speak, I couldn't form a sentence and it was scary," he said. "Sometime that evening or early the next morning, I had a stroke."

Maxwell was told at the hospital that he would most likely regain the ability to talk when the swelling in his brain subsided.

More than three months later, he can speak normally with little effort. He attributes his recovery to his speech therapists and says they have gone to great lengths to tailor his therapy to his job.

"They find cases and they do arguments," he said with a laugh. "They argue to see if I'm somewhat competent."

Cases being rescheduled

Maxwell's ability to talk has a direct effect on his ability to defend people accused of crimes. And with his caseload 130 files deep, his health is having an impact on the provincial court system.  

On Monday, the case of Fernando Rojas, the former Georges-Dumont hospital doctor accused of impaired driving, was adjourned until late September.

At the same time, a number of Maxwell's other clients were shuffled to court dates months down the road.

 "This is bogging down the court system,"  Crown prosecutor Stephen Holt said during the proceedings.

Criminal lawyers tend to carry heavier caseloads, said Maxwell, but even with that he admitted, "I probably do a bit more than other lawyers would do, but that's my choice."

Despite his recent stroke, Maxwell plans to finish the cases he has in his dossier.

"I think I have dates for most of them up until the end of November, which will clean them up."

If a case of a lawyer not being able to meet commitments, the New Brunswick Law Society would step in.

Shirley MacLean, the registrar of complaints and the deputy executive director at the law society, said the organization is there to protect the public when a lawyer becomes too ill to serve the client, or when a lawyer abandons a practice.

"The law society will actually step in and appoint a custodian to assist with that practice, essentially step into the feet of the lawyer, and if there is urgent matters then the lawyers will appear for those clients," she said.

But there have been no complaints with Maxwell or his practice, Maclean said.

No retirement date yet

Maxwell has been practising for almost 50 years and won't commit to a retirement date.  

"I'll stay here for a while and work with Mr. (James) Matheson, who's working with me," he said. "Then I'll phase out and be put out to pasture."

The reason he's been showing up to work since 1965 is that he loves it, Maxwell said.

"I hate to say it but I'd almost sooner do a trial than play golf," he said. "I like my work, I get up in the morning and I'm glad to come to my office."