Judge remembered as sincere and humble
Retired Superior Court justice Nick Borkovich is being remembered as a kind, friendly and humble man with a clever legal mind.
Borkovich died May 19 at the age of 81. He retired from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Hamilton in 2010.
“He was just so easy to get along with. He was a wonderful man,” says his longtime pal, Walter Stayshyn, a retired Superior Court justice who had an enduring and close friendship with Borkovich these past 67 years.
The two, both east-end Hamilton boys and both the children of hard-working immigrant parents, went through McMaster University and Osgood Hall Law School together.
After articling separately for high-profile Hamilton lawyers — Borkovich for the late John Munroe and late Jack Pelech, and Stayshyn for the late John Agro — the two friends became law partners, opening their practice in Hamilton in 1963.
In 1982, when Borkovich joined the bench 10 years after Stayshyn, they became part of the so-called “Slavic bench” — a joke among four old friends — Stayshyn, Borkovich, Eugene Fedak and William Festeryga — who were the sons of working-class European immigrants. Three had Ukrainian heritage and Borkovich was of Serbian decent.
Stayshyn said Borkovich was an excellent lawyer who was respected by his clients and later a great judge who was “very clever and hard-working.”
Longtime city lawyer Roger Yachetti knew Borkovich for more than 50 years and says he will be sorely missed. “He exhibited the same outstanding qualities as a person, as a lawyer, and as a judge — sincerity and forthrightness,” Yachetti said. “As a judge, he possessed and utilized what is, in my opinion, the single most important judicial trait: common sense.”
Hamilton Criminal Lawyers’ Association president Jaime Stephenson said Borkovich was a true believer in the jury system.
“He was firm, but also kind and never devalued any participant in the judicial system, particularly an accused,” she said.
He “will be truly missed as a person who always had time to educate and assist a young lawyer …” Stephenson added.
Lawyer Jeff Manishen, who appeared before Borkovich in several trials, said he was direct to the point and applied the law in a thoughtful and impartial way.
“He had a deep-seated sense of the importance of an accused person being treated fairly,” he said, adding it didn’t mean you got an easy ride. “But he had a completely honest and real commitment to the trial process.”
Manishen, who also got to know Borkovich socially, says, “He was a very genuine guy. That’s the word I’d use the most.”
Asgar Manek, who has practised criminal law in Hamilton since 1976, called Borkovich’s death a sad day.
“I found him very charming, very polite and very knowledgeable. If he met you on the street, he’d come up and shake your hand and even hug you. That, to me, meant he was very humble.”
Borkovich was born in Oakville but grew up in east Hamilton, where he attended Delta High school. Besides the law, he also had a great passion for sports and was a good baseball and basketball player, says Stayshyn.
Borkovich was a great sports fan, too, he added, remembering how in law school, they bought $2 tickets to watch a hockey game from behind the seats at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Borkovich was also a regular in the stands at McMaster Marauder football and basketball games.
Retired Superior Court Justice Nick Borkovich was also a sports fan who was a regular at McMaster football and basketball games.