Players in the Woolgate Supreme Court scandal

In what has become increasingly known as “Woolgate”, it is now evident that Supreme Court Judge Bill Wilson was financially indebted to counsel for the old Wool Board when he ruled in the Wool Board’s favour against superfine woolgrower Saxmere when on the Court of Appeal in 2007 and failed to disclose this to opposing counsel – let alone disqualify himself.  When discovered, the Judge then lied about his indebtedness and downplayed his extensive business relationship with counsel (Alan Galbraith QC).

After taking more than 2 years to conduct a preliminary investigation, the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner made a recommendation to the Attorney General earlier this month to conduct a panel investigation into the alleged judicial misconduct.

As the scandal publicly unfolds at a snail’s pace, few New Zealanders are aware of the wide range of characters involved in the scandal and attempted cover-up.  For the first time, kiwisfirst provides a detailed look into the roles 14 people have played in this sad episode in New Zealand’s history – an episode made sadder by the broader lack of judicial accountability it has exposed.

THE FOURTEEN KEY PEOPLE IN THE NZ SUPREME COURT SCANDAL

28 May 2010
Bill Wilson (NZ Supreme Court Judge)
The tempest at the centre of the scandal, Judge Bill Wilson is by most accounts an amiable fellow with a good many friends in the legal fraternity.  Judge Ted Thomas, initiator of one of the formal complaints against Wilson to the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, considers him a friend.

Judge Bill Wilson
Judge Bill Wilson

Judge Wilson has also worked extensively on behalf of the government in some of the most sensitive and secretive cases.  He is an avid political operator and holder of many secrets concerning those in power.   He is a close friend and business associate of the Supreme Court Chief Justice Sian Elias, as well as a close friend and former mentor to Attorney General Chris Finlayson when the two were at Bell Gully law firm.  Yet none of this seems to fully explain his meteoric rise from private practice to New Zealand Supreme Court judge in less than two years – from 2007 to 2008.

 

Despite all the public attention his alleged misconduct has garnered in the last year, what people tend to overlook is that Judge Wilson is a prime product of the New Zealand court system and a master of its protocols.  He is an astute lawyer who was largely acting in much the same manner he saw his judicial colleagues acting.  His stubborn refusal to resign since news of the scandal broke is largely a reflection of the knowledge that his indiscretions pale in comparison to many of his judicial colleagues.  It is by judicial design that while New Zealand has laws which send parents to prison for spanking their children, there is no rule or law which prohibits judges from presiding where they have a conflict of interest.  Judges in New Zealand commonly use the excuse that New Zealand is a small country to justify sitting on cases where they have a conflict of interest.

That said, it is safe to say that Wilson had trouble making the mental transition from private legal advocate to ‘impartial’ Crown adjudicator.  He used his judicial title to actively promote his horse stud business after being appointed to the Court of Appeal and sat in judgment on an astounding FIVE cases where his partner in this business operation Alan Galbraith appeared before him.  Indicative of how common and serious his poor judgment is, Wilson continued to sit on Galbraith’s cases even after news of their extensive financial dealings was the subject of a special application to the Supreme Court.

During all these appearances, Galbraith and Wilson were 50/50 partners in a multi-million dollar horse stud, they were mutually obligated on a mortgage loan and Wilson was indebted to Galbraith in the six figures.  During the Saxmere appeal, Wilson and Galbraith were in the process of purchasing a $2.1 million property together.   None of this information was disclosed by the Judge to the parties unless one wishes to categorise Wilson’s disclosure that he and Galbraith had a mutual financial interest in a racehorse as encompassing all this.

Wilson’s colleagues have suggested he is a bit thick when it comes to the common sense realities of life and that this is partially at the root of his current problems.  They point to his reactions to developments early in this scandal as evidence.  In one example, his fellow Supreme Court judges dismissed Saxmere’s application alleging conflict of interest by Wilson in a ruling 3 July 2010 where they (incorrectly) stated “There is nothing to indicate any indebtedness by the judge to Mr Galbraith…”.  In response, Wilson phoned his business partner Galbraith to say he had been “vindicated” by this judgment.  Wilson shamefully appeared unaware he was bragging about how he got off on a falsehood to the one person who knew intimately how false this Supreme Court claim was.

Wilson’s failure to disclose his financial indebtedness to counsel for Saxmere’s opponent (Disco) was compounded by disingenuous statements to the Supreme Court in response to subsequent allegations of the judicial misconduct.  To all the legal eagles familiar with the factual situation who have read Wilson’s statements, it is generally accepted Wilson was more than economical with the truth; that his evasions constituted material misrepresentations of his true financial relationship.  Several prominent lawyers, including Jim Farmer QC then tried to convince Wilson to resign last July, but Wilson was unreceptive to the suggestion.

As with all appointments to the New Zealand bench since Peter Mahon was ostracised for exposing judicial corruption in the Air New Zealand Mt Erebus crash investigation, Wilson’s ability to keep secrets and not upset the status quo were major factors in his appointment to the Court of Appeal in 2007 and Supreme Court in 2008.  The irony is that Wilson J, in refusing to resign, has indicated to those around him he is not going to be a scapegoat for practices long accepted by the New Zealand judiciary.  He has raised the specter that he will take others down with him if forced out on anything but his own terms.

Despite earning $416,000 year as a judge and co-owning a horse stud operation said to be worth as much as $10 million, Wilson J is claiming poverty and minimally insisting upon a lucrative government golden handshake to resign.   All this has made the incestuous judicial community very nervous.   And Wilson is particularly well-placed to name names and events.  This, and the impotence of the New Zealand government in confronting judicial misconduct, has made Wilson the unlikely power broker in Woolgate.  While his fellow judges lobby for an acceptable solution which emphasizes maximum secrecy, Wilson J continues to sit on Supreme Court cases and make decisions.  He towers over the diminutive Chief Justice Sian Elias as they pass each other in the $100 million Supreme Court hallway each day with a wry confidence few of us can imagine.  Conversely, Elias CJ is worried sick that her tenuous friendship with Wilson may not be enough to protect her secrets if Wilson is not appeased.

Alan Galbraith QC

Alan Galbraith QC
Alan Galbraith QC

Alan Galbraith is widely regarded as one of the two most powerful lawyers in private practice in New Zealand (along with Jim Farmer QC).  He was called in by Disco (the old Wool Board) to represent it in its successful appeal against Saxmere before Judge Wilson and Company at the Court of Appeal in 2007.  Galbraith did not represent Disco at either the High Court or Supreme Court levels.  This begs the question whether he was called in specifically for his personal influence with the judge(s).  In a rare comment regarding his appearance, Galbraith turned heads by stating the Court of Appeal didn’t rely much upon what he presented.

We now know that at the time Galbraith appeared before the Court of Appeal, Judge Wilson owed Galbraith a significant amount of money, that Galbraith was pressuring the Judge to pay down his indebtedness, that they co-owned a horsebreeding operation with a valuation at the time of as much as $10 million, and that the two were in the middle of purchasing a $2.1 million property together.  We also know that none of this was disclosed by the Judge to opposing counsel and that this is what fundamentally underpins the current scandal.

What has largely been lost in all of this is that Mr Galbraith failed his legal obligation to make a disclosure to opposing counsel – if not a personal request for another judge.  Yet Galbraith has not faced a single complaint for this egregious legal ethics failure.  Such are the double standards for powerful lawyers/judges in New Zealand.  The difference in this case is that the New Zealand taxpayers are being asked to pay Galbraith’s legal bills despite his appalling conduct.

The cost of this indiscretion on New Zealand has been huge – and it is getting ugly.  Galbraith was paid handsomely for his role before the Court of Appeal.  Disco has recently submitted invoices to the Attorney General to get reimbursed by the taxpayers for money it paid Galbraith because Wilson J’s failure to disclose has resulted in an order for a new hearing.  No mention is being made of how Galbraith was equally culpable in his legal obligation to disclose.

Sian Elias CJ, New Zealand Supreme Court
New Zealand Supreme Court Chief Justice Sian Elias has been a master at selling the public on both her naivete and high morals in this scandal.  She wants New Zealanders to forget that she is a close friend and business associate of both Galbraith and Wilson and remember instead that she refused to sit on the Saxmere case the two times it came before the Supreme Court because of her relationships with these gentlemen.

 Supreme Court Chief Justice Sian Elias
Supreme Court Chief Justice Sian Elias

The reality is that Elias micromanages information at the Supreme Court – to the extent she has taken it upon herself to personally approve any requests for information on Court operations.   If she was your neighbor, she would be the one with binoculars and an ear to the wall.

Yet when it came to Wilson’s misconduct, she has repeatedly pleaded ignorance and steadfastly kept her head in the sand.  Despite corroborated evidence of Judge Wilson’s misconduct presented personally to her early in the scandal by Sir Ted Thomas, the Chief Justice disgracefully adhered to the position that Wilson had represented to her months earlier that he had done nothing wrong – and that this was good enough for her.  She not only fiddled as Rome burned – she thumbed her nose at her obligations as head of the legal fire brigade to forthrightly deal to the raging fire and protect the honour of the court.   Elias CJ refused to consider the evidence put to her by an honourable colleague that Wilson was guilty of judicial misconduct, she refused to question her good friend Wilson and she even refused to consider the evidence of judicial impropriety after her other good friend Galbraith privately met with her to inform her and other colleagues that he was troubled by Wilson’s deception.

Sian Elias also refused her judicial obligation to notify the Saxmere interests that they might be entitled to a new trial due to the unsafe Supreme Court decision of 3 July 2009 which incorrectly found Judge Wilson had no perceived conflict of interest.  At the same time, she has proactively engaged in the behind the scenes negotiations on behalf of her friend Wilson with the New Zealand government.

How egregious was Chief Justice Sian Elias’s own conduct in this scandal?  Consider these facts: Both Sir Ted Thomas and Alan Galbraith had separate personal meetings with the Chief Justice in July 2009 where they bluntly laid out the evidence that Judge Wilson’s conduct in the Saxmere appeal was a hanging offence.  The Chief Justice refused to do anything.  FIVE months later, Sir Ted filed a formal complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner regarding Wilson J, stating: “I consider the complaint too serious to refer to the Chief Justice under s 17 of the Act”.

Sir David Gascoigne (Judicial Conduct Commissioner)
Senior Partner in the New Zealand law firm Minter Ellison, based in Wellington, Mr Gascoigne took over the position of Judicial Conduct Commissioner after things became too hot for Ian Haynes, and Haynes abruptly resigned in May 2009.  It is evident today that Mr Gascoigne had no idea how corrupt the set-up was at the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner.

Sir David Gascoigne (Judicial Conduct Commissioner)
Sir David Gascoigne (Judicial Conduct Commissioner)

Ian Haynes made no effort to clue him in before he left.  Moreover, unbeknownst to anyone, Haynes was sandbagging the most problematic complaints of judicial misconduct for his successor to deal with.

The complaint against Judge Wilson was one such complaint.

Though Mr Gascoigne is an ‘old boy’ accustomed to protecting the status quo, he struggled to come to grips with how to honourably dispose of the snowballing complaints against NZ judges.  His adjustment has been slow.

Consequently, he has fallen significantly behind at the same time complaints against judges to his office have increased markedly.  Several months into his appointment, Gascoigne appealed to Attorney General Chris Finlayson for help.  In March of this year, Parliament amended the governing act to allow the appointment of a Deputy Commissioner, while allowing the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner greater latitude in disposal of complaints.

The Wilson complaint alone has consumed a significant amount of Gascoigne’s time, given largely to his extraordinary attempts to cover up the essential facts with layers of bureaucratic procedure, much of which he is creating as he goes.  Such stonewalling apparently caused Sir Ted Thomas to leak a copy of his December 2009 complaint to the New Zealand Herald in April.   Meanwhile, Commissioner Gascoigne’s unswerving defence of Judge Wilson during the process left Australian Chief Justice Murray Gleeson dumbfounded.  Though we now know Gascoigne was dealing with three separate complaints against Wilson for this same offence, the fact the Commissioner issued a press release with his belated recommendation to convene an investigative panel which stated “a judicial conduct panel may well form an opinion which is favourable to the judge” is telling.

Sir Edmund (Ted) Thomas (retired NZ Court of Appeal Judge)
One of three persons who filed a detailed formal complaint with the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner in regard to Wilson J’s misconduct in the Woolgate scandal, Sir Ted’s 18 page complaint eclipses the others as far as weight and influence.

Sir Edmund (Ted) Thomas (retired NZ Court of Appeal Judge)
Sir Edmund (Ted) Thomas (retired NZ Court of Appeal Judge)

The 75 year old retired Court of Appeal Judge (right photo) would have easily been a full time appointment to the nascent New Zealand Supreme Court if not for his age.  Though he could be on occasion erratic and caustic, and prone to rambling judgments, Sir Ted is destined to go down as one of the truly honourable judges in New Zealand’s history.  His lifetime of achievements in law could easily fill a small book.

Any complaint by a lawyer against a judge, especially if made public, would be a career killer in the parochial New Zealand legal fraternity.  Fortunately, Thomas did not have to worry about this.  Nonetheless, he experienced considerable consternation at several junctions in his 9 month journey to expose Wilson’s misconduct on the bench.  The fact that Wilson was by then a Supreme Court judge increased the abuse he would certainly take from his judicial peers.  This became immediately apparent to Thomas when he presented the factual evidence to Chief Justice Sian Elias in Hong Kong in July 2009, only to be dismissed out of hand.

Over the ensuing months, after Thomas had assisted unsuccessfully to coax Wilson to take the honourable route and fall on his sword, Thomas detailed the allegations and evidence in his complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner David Gascoigne – only to be stiff-armed again.

Privately Thomas confided the system was not receptive to the evidence and said he had resigned himself to the likelihood nothing would be done.  This was particularly the case after Judge Gleeson was quietly sent packing back to Australia and the result of his investigation kept secret.

But apparently Thomas’ conscience weighed on him.  The fact that Wilson’s misconduct had become an open secret in the legal community would made a mockery of impartial justice in New Zealand and forever taint the reputation of the Courts if allowed to be covered up by the government.  In a noble fit, Thomas leaked his detailed complaint to the New Zealand Herald two months ago.

Ian Haynes
Ian Haynes was appointed as the first Judicial Conduct Commissioner under the Judicial Conduct Commissioner and Judicial Panel Act 2004.  The office was created to instill judicial oversight after some high profile cases of New Zealand judges downloading porn on Court computers and materially altering official court records.

Ian HaynesCalled the gatekeeper to the judges’ secrets, Ian Haynes will be remembered for his furtive obstruction of meritorious claims detailing judicial misconduct as the first Judicial Conduct Commissioner.

Haynes is a former president of the New Zealand Law Society, the Auckland District Law Society, as well as a senior partner of the largest law firm benefactor of legal aid in New Zealand (Kensington Swan).   As such, it surprises no one that he found no need to recommend a formal investigation into any of the 350+ complaints he dealt with during his time as Commissioner.

When Haynes abruptly resigned in May 2009, he left a stack of the more problematic complaints on his desk for his successor to deal with.  One of these complaints was the then-1 ½ year old Wilson complaint.  Haynes had initially attempted to dismiss this Wilson complaint in 2008, but was stymied by Canterbury Law Professor Duncan Webb and Solicitor Sue Grey who forced the legal issues, compelling Haynes to retract his dismissal.  Ruffled but undeterred, Haynes left the country for six weeks, refusing to answer questions until he got his head around what to do next.  When he returned, he duly placed the complaint in his office to gather dust.

Notwithstanding this rare setback, Haynes’ success in dismissing complaints as Commissioner was due to a system he developed whereby he engaged “independent counsel” to advise him whether a judicial complaint was worth investigating.  The scheme was ingenious.   Under the prevailing Act, Haynes had a statutory obligation to expose judicial misconduct.  However, he recognized that if he hired ‘independent’ consultants for legal opinions, he could then rely on those legal opinions to dismiss complaints where a prima facie case of judicial misconduct otherwise existed.  Because the ‘independent’ counsel had no statutory obligation and owed a legal duty of care only to Haynes, the only risk to them in giving bad legal advice was if Haynes were to go after them for negligence.  In a classic one-hand-washes-the-other scheme, Haynes thusly avoided his statutory obligation by dismissing complaints based upon outside legal advice.  On the other hand, the private practice lawyer giving the advice provided Haynes what he wanted, was given anonymity and was nicely paid as a result.

Haynes played the scheme to perfection.  He refused to disclose copies or details of the legal advice, claiming it was legally privileged.  He also refused to name who it was that was providing him the advice or how much they were being paid, citing the fact that his office was exempt from the Official Information Act.

Murray Gleeson (Australian Chief Justice (ret.))

Chief Justice Murray Gleeson
Chief Justice Murray Gleeson

The former Australian Chief Justice whose candor matches his legal intellect proved too candid for the secretive NZ Judiciary.  Inside accounts are that Gleeson was gobsmacked not only by Wilson’s conduct but the unabashed lack of judicial rules prohibiting conflicts of interest, where even the limited “guidelines of judicial conduct” stated it did not bind judges and was, until recently, a closely guarded secret in itself.

Called in earlier this year with tremendous hoopla by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner to give an independent legal assessment, Gleeson’s privately expressed frank opinions of the egregious nature of Judge Wilson’s offences resulted in his unceremonious departure and no record of his recommendations.  But Judge Gleeson has too much dignity to embarrass his recalcitrant hosts by making any public statement when they have made it clear they do not want to take his advice.

Sue Grey (Saxmere’s counsel)
The reluctant whistle-blower, Ms Grey started her Saxmere counsel role as a dyed-in-the-wool (lol) believer in the New Zealand Court system.  Her NZ law school indoctrination taught her to have unflinching faith in the system, never question it and never talk to the press about cases.

Sue Grey (Saxmere's counsel)
Sue Grey (Saxmere’s counsel)

It has been suggested she naively adhered to the seldom practiced principle in New Zealand that lawyers should be fierce advocates for their clients, even when these clients’ interests conflict with the Crown’s interests.  This integrity – coupled with the fact she had not practiced enough in New Zealand Courts to understand the true reality – personally prevented her from dropping Saxmere as a client after threats by the Solicitor General David Collins that she must do so.

As with anyone who attempts to expose judicial corruption, furtive attempts by the judiciary have been made to discredit her.  These have been only minimally effective due to her exemplary legal background, as well as her political savvy in keeping the focus on the negative commercial and economic effect such judicial corruption is having on her major wool producing client.

She has not escaped unscathed.  She was fired from her job at Department of Conservation by direction of Solicitor General David Collins.  She fought back and won a significant financial settlement from the Crown earlier this year for her political dismissal.  In typical fashion, the Crown has a confidentiality clause which prohibits the NZ taxpayer from knowing what this has cost them.  In addition to being fired from her job, Ms Grey and her client were threatened by the Crown with crippling solicitor and client costs last year when they persisted in exposing the facts before the Supreme Court.

During the arduous battle which shook the very foundation of her faith in the system, Ms Grey learned the press was not the enemy.  Today she singularly credits the fourth estate with keeping the judicial misconduct from being covered-up by the system and exacting punishment on her and her client merely for blowing the whistle.

The true testament to Grey’s extraordinary courage is that despite learning many NZ lawyers have paid a professional price for exposing such transgressions, and being financially targeted herself, she never waivered.

Dr David Collins QC (Solicitor General)
What David Collins lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up for in ambition.  He recognized early in his career that the path to legal success required distinguishing himself as a legal expert and placating the powerful interests which control New Zealand society.

New Zealand Solicitor General David Collins
New Zealand Solicitor General David Collins

Doctorate law degrees are rare in New Zealand.  So Collins proudly promotes his Queen’s Counsel and doctorate designations wherever his moniker appears or name is mentioned.   He values publicity over ideals, often advocating a novel legal position one day and fiercely opposing it the next.  He hobnobs with anyone he thinks has any power and regularly cements personal relationships with such people by going out of his way to demonstrate his loyalty.

Collins was initially appointed Solicitor General under Attorney General and non-lawyer Michael Cullen.  The discrepancy in knowledge of the law between the two men meant that Collins was effectively running the show.  He did not handle the mantle of power well and immediately began using his position to advance his private interests and cover up some personal criminal conduct.  There were effectively no checks on Collins power, as A-G Cullen was in no position to challenge Collins.

When allegations of Wilson J’s misconduct originally surfaced, Collins endeared himself to the judiciary by moving quickly to quash it.  He orchestrated the firing of whistle-blower Sue Grey from her job at Department of Conservation, filed extensive legal submissions in support of Judge Wilson’s conduct and personally appeared in Court to show his support for Wilson in what was a civil case between two private parties.

When Chris Finlayson was appointed Attorney General under the new National government, the two men became kindred spirits on the subject of Bill Wilson.  Finlayson owed a lot to Wilson due to Wilson providing moral and professional support to the junior Finlayson when both worked at Bell Gully.  It was with Finlayson’s blessing that Collins filed a 31 page submission as “Intervener in the Public Interest” in February 2009.  The submissions staunchly defended Wilson’s conduct and purportedly relied upon some 43 legal authorities worldwide in reaching its recommendation “in the public interest” that Wilson had acted legally and ethically.

Chris Finlayson (Attorney General)
Chris Finlayson is an intelligent, hardworking, articulate and successful politician who was appointed Attorney General after news of Wilson’s indiscretions first broke.  He exudes a confidence bordering on arrogance which comes from figuring out how everything works in the world by the time he was thirty years of age.

Chris Finlayson (Attorney General)
Chris Finlayson (Attorney General)

Finlayson personally owes a lot to Bill Wilson, having been adopted as Wilson’s protégé early in his legal career at Bell Gully.  Even after being elected to Parliament, Finlayson was referred private briefs by Wilson.

Perhaps not that surprising for a politician and lawyer, Finlayson formulates his position based upon what is best for him and his career and does not concern himself with being a hypocrite.  When National was in opposition, Finlayson made political points by passionately suggesting the mark of honourable leaders was whether they addressed wrongdoing by their friends differently that they did their opponents.  Months later, as the new Attorney General and in his official capacity, Finlayson could not wait to defend Wilson’s conduct from the bench based solely on their friendship.

Evidence in the case would later show that even when confronted firmly with the facts that Wilson had acted deceptively, Finlayson told fellow Member of Parliament Colin King that he would not abandon his friend Wilson.

Sir Ted Thomas personally met with Finlayson last winter to detail to the Attorney General the egregious extent of Wilson’s judicial misconduct.  Thomas also provided the Attorney General names of some prominent senior lawyers to corroborate what he told him.  It is not apparent what Finlayson did with this information other than to attempt to run damage control with his friend Wilson.  Publicly his office continued to support Wilson.

After kiwisfirst and the NBR ran stories exposing the depth and breadth of Wilson’s misconduct and called for Wilson’s resignation, Finlayson tried to diffuse the brewing scandal by generously offering taxpayer funds to reimburse the litigation parties’ legal expenses in the case.

Finlayson has now strategically distanced himself from the matter.  Even though he has long been an admirer of Australian Chief Justice Murray Gleeson, Finlayson had no contact with Gleeson when he came to New Zealand to give an independent assessment of Wilson’s conduct in January.

In March, Finlayson turned over his official duties as Attorney General in respect to the Government’s handling of the Wilson debacle to fellow MP Judith Collins.

Early this year Finlayson suggested that the government’s official submissions filed in support of Wilson to the Supreme Court were Collins’ initiative.

Liam Baldwin and Jock Anderson at the NBR
Bucking the conventional wisdom that it is dangerous to report on court corruption in New Zealand, reporters Liam Baldwin and Jock Anderson were the first in the “mainstream media” to expose the judicial scandal, in a country where vindictive judges have long memories and lawyers would be struck off for such candor. Although they have struggled to find the “deepthroat” inside source who would prove how deeply seeded and pervasive the judicial corruption is, they are the Woodward and Bernstein in Woolgate.  Moreover, where NZ broadcast media are still reticent to report on the unlawful conduct, tribute must be paid to these intrepid reporters who have taken personal and professional risks in exposing the knickers of the most powerful people in New Zealand.

Francis Cooke QC
The son of Lord Robin Cooke, Francis Cooke was Saxmere’s lawyer at the Court of Appeal.  He was drawn into the scandal because, days before the appeal hearing, Judge Wilson did disclose to Mr Cooke that he owned race horse(s) with opposing counsel Alan Galbraith.  Cooke stated that this disclosure did not raise alarm bells to him because a good many judges are in racehorse partnerships.  Cooke gave the benefit of the doubt to the judge for neglecting to cite his indebtedness and extensive company partnership with Galbraith.

When interviewed by the JCC and Judge Gleeson, Cooke downplayed Wilson’s impropriety, adopting the oft-repeated refrain that such connections are to be expected in a small country and that judges effectively put these personal obligations aside when sitting.  Gleeson had no reason to question Cooke’s sincerity, but could not ascertain whether Cooke was naïve or an indoctrinated Court Stepford Wife.  Though JCC Gascoigne agreed with this thinking, the meeting suggested to Gleeson that Cooke would be of little value in progressing a meaningful investigation beyond the factual value of his initial statement confirming the insufficient disclosure by Wilson J of his conflict.

Duncan Webb
Duncan Webb is a former Canterbury University associate professor, Legal Complaints Review Officer and self-proclaimed expert on legal ethics.  He has co-written two books on legal ethics and is a firm believer that lawyers do the right thing if left to their own devices.

Duncan Webb
Duncan Webb is a former Canterbury University associate professor.

Nonetheless, Webb was appalled enough at Wilson J’s failure to disclose his conflicts that he personally wrote a complaint to the JCC on behalf of Saxmere.  Webb’s submission was apparently so powerful that then-Commissioner Ian Haynes left the country for six weeks to avoid dealing with the complaint.

After a lackluster stint as Legal Complaints Review Officer, a Crown appointment which conveniently included the requirement he not comment on the alleged misconduct, Mr Webb is back to practicing law at Lane Neave in Christchurch.  It is reported that Webb is still committed to supporting the claim of judicial misconduct by Saxmere against Judge Wilson.

The Russian dissident Alexandre Solzenitsyn said of Soviet society, “We did not care enough about liberty.  In the end we got what we deserved.”

New Zealand stands at the crossroads.  Do we, as a nation, declare judicial abuse of power unacceptable, or do we suffer the lessons of history to find out ourselves how fragile liberty is?  Power is itself corrupting.  It is only by making those in power accountable that a society keeps this corrupting influence in check and its citizens free.