BENT JUDGE WITH “FEET OF CLAY” LOSING FIGHT
It is revealed that Supreme Court Judge Bill Wilson’s deception was an open secret in the halls of power since July 2009. This from a complaint lodged with the Judicial Conduct Commissioner by Sir Edmund (Ted) Thomas last December.
Sir Ted is a 76 year-old retired Court of Appeal Judge and Distinguished Fellow of the Auckland University Law School who occasionally filled in on the Supreme Court since retirement. His 16 page complaint blows the lid on a massive cover-up by Wilson’s fellow judges, the Attorney General and the Judicial Conduct Commissioner. It reveals the dismay among Wilson’s friends who had sought to convince their friend with “feet of clay” to resign.
The financially strapped Wilson is refusing to resign until the government minimally agrees to give him a lucrative golden handshake.
The drama began when Judge Wilson was on the Court of Appeal panel in 2007 which overturned a ruling, in favour of the Wool Board in Saxmere v Wool Board. It was discovered later the judge was financially indebted to the Wool Board’s counsel to the tune of $242,000 and was also in the middle of purchasing a $2.1 million property with him. The judge’s financial indebtedness was further complicated by counsel’s unsuccessful attempts to get the judge to pay down the debt immediately prior to Wilson hearing his appeal.
The scathing complaint proves the Supreme Court judges were fully aware that Saxmere was legally entitled to a rehearing at least two months before they required Saxmere’s counsel to suffer a recall application hearing on 24 November 2009.
On 3 July 2009 the Supreme Court ruled Wilson J had acted appropriately and there was no possibility of even unconscious bias, even though page 89 of the Supreme Court transcript showed the Court was aware Wilson and counsel Alan Galbraith QC were mutually obligated on a mortgage. Wilson was to tell Galbraith later that Judge Peter Blanchard effectively covered for him by taking a narrow interpretation that the indebtedness was not “on demand”.
Three weeks later, on 27 July 2009, Chief Justice Sian Elias was made aware of the extent of Wilson’s financial indebtedness to Galbraith and his failure to minimally disclose this indebtedness to Saxmere. The Chief Justice was bound by legal ethics to notify Saxmere over the unsafe judgment as a result of this new information. Instead, she disqualified herself from hearing Saxmere’s (successful) recall application three months later.
By the first of August 2009 Attorney General Chris Finlayson and Solicitor General David Collins were also provided the detail of Judge Wilson’s ethical transgressions. Both had earlier filed a brief as intervener in the public interest to the Supreme Court defending Wilson’s appalling conduct. Despite the corroborated evidence, both men continued to use their position as the top two law officers in New Zealand to protect Judge Wilson.
Mr Finlayson was Wilson’s junior associate at law firm Bell Gully. Evidence now before the Court is that the Attorney General told a fellow MP he would not take any action against his friend Wilson.
After first conceding that mistakes were made and offering to reimburse Saxmere’s legal expenses, S-G Collins has recently agreed to pay only 20% of the tab. Early in the melee Collins orchestrated Saxmere Solicitor Sue Grey’s firing from her job at Department of Conservation because she refused to go silent regarding Wilson’s misconduct in an appeal.
But the biggest offender in the cover-up is likely to be the Judicial Conduct Commissioner David Gascoigne. Two and a half years ago, then-Canterbury Legal Ethics Professor Duncan Webb filed a formal complaint with the JCC detailing Wilson’s misconduct in the case. Unbeknownst to the New Zealand public, Sir Thomas filed his much more comprehensive complaint on 21 December 2009. As public concern over the case grew, Sir Gascoigne made a big public charade of bringing retired Chief Justice Murray Gleeson over in January as an “independent” assessor of the complaint and assured the media he would come to a decision shortly. It didn’t happen. Judge Gleeson proved too honourable to pull his punches ( see related story in left column). He was sent packing back to Australia and his report became confidential. In a lame attempt to bury the evidence, Gascoigne then called upon government sleuth Paul Neazor.
If it was not for the media catching wind of Sir Ted’s complaint to JCC Gascoigne, he might have gotten away with it. Kiwisfirst is the only news organisation in New Zealand providing the public with the full complaint – to judge the judge’s conduct for themselves.
Of the 550+ formal complaints against judges lodged with the JCC since the oversight body was created in 2004, not one has been referred to the Attorney General for a formal investigation.