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Five things you’ve missed behind the scenes of the John Banks’ pre-trial hearings

Stories have word limits and sometimes we just can’t squeeze everything in. Most of the time, we scurry back to our newsrooms from court to report on the judgments, evidence and opening and closing submissions.

But it’s the little things that make the courthouse so interesting.

Like the time a lay litigant brought his evidence to the courtroom in Dole banana boxes and suitcases tied with pink ribbons.

In an unrelated case late last year, I watched the supporters of an accused criminal line up outside the Auckland High Court for what I can only assume was a family photo. I’m guessing they don’t get to see one another too often. In their defence, the courthouse grounds are kept quite nice with its well-manicured lawns, shrubbery and vines.

John Banks’ hearings are usually a media circus, but the last one was especially busy. It fell on the same day as admissions to the bar. The latter event is marked by scores of law school graduates – and their supporters, usually parents – descending upon the court, donning wigs and gowns.

Families, once again, huddle together and take photos outside the courthouse.

As the trial for Mr Banks draws near – May 19, set down for 10 days – here is a recap of events that have largely gone under the radar.

The media’s simplification of the charge: Early in the reporting of allegations against Mr Banks, the media took to calling charges “electoral fraud” and, according to a recent Broadcasting Standards Authority decision, it is an acceptable term (to be broadcast).

A complaint was brought by a Mrs Taylor of Napier over a Radio New Zealand report referring to the “electoral fraud,” which she claims was not accurate. The authority disagreed.

“The authority did not uphold the complaint that this was inaccurate, because he was actually standing trial over allegations of ‘filing a false electoral return’. The label ‘electoral fraud’ was used as shorthand to characterise the accusations against Mr Banks, and was also adopted by numerous other news media. The story and the nature of the allegations were widely publicised so viewers would not have been misled,” the decision says.

Most, if not all, media outlets have adopted “electoral fraud” rather than rehash the verbose wording of the actual charge.

In case, you’re wondering, the actual charge now reads: “The Solicitor-General charges that John Archibald Banks on or about the 9th day of December 2010 at Auckland, being a candidate, transmitted a return of electoral expenses knowing it to be false in one or more material particulars.

“Particulars: The return of electoral expenses and donations for the 2010 Auckland mayoral election signed by the said John Archibald Banks listed as “anonymous” the following donations and in respect of which he knew the identity of the donor: i) Donation in the sum of $15,000 made by Skycity Management Limited and received on or about 24 May 2010; ii) Donation in the sum of $25,000 made by Megastuff Limited on behalf of Kim Dotcom and received on or about 14 June 2010; iii) Second donation in the sum of $25,000 made by Megastuff Limited on behalf of Kim Dotcom and received on or about 14 June 2010.”

Graham McCready hasn’t received a cent: Mr McCready, a retired and bankrupted accountant, brought the charge against Mr Banks as a private prosecutor after the Serious Fraud Office declined to pursue the matter. After the District Court deemed there is enough evidence for Mr Banks to stand trial, the Crown took over the case.

Mr McCready is a polarising character for the public. People either believe he is a hero or a vexatious litigant. Regardless of your opinion, there is one thing that’s for certain: The system doesn’t know what to do with him.

When Mr McCready lodges complaints with the police or the courts, he is often told to take his complaints someplace else. Since the Crown has taken over the prosecution of Mr Banks, he applied for costs at the High Court. The court has bounced his application back and told him to take it up with the Crown Law Office.

Mr McCready recently told NBR ONLINE he is awaiting the outcome of the trial but hasn’t received a nickel for the work he did on the case from September 2012 to about October 2013.

One is left to wonder if Crown prosecutors still get paid if they lose.

Penny Bright behaved herself: Penny Bright, along with a couple of other protesters, showed up at the last High Court hearing to show their disdain for Mr Banks (and another politician whose name rhymes with Ben Drown). They mostly kept their cause outside the courthouse with colourful banners and signs.

In a last-ditch effort Mr Banks sought, and lost, a bid to throw out the case, citing lack of evidence.

Once the 10am hearing began, Ms Bright entered the courtroom as a (mostly) quiet observer in the public gallery. I’m sure it was a complete coincidence the security guard followed her into the courtroom and sat behind her.

Aside from a few sighs and huffs while Mr Banks’ lawyer spoke, Ms Bright was quite well behaved. (By contrast, she was removed by security from an Auckland Council meeting a couple of weeks ago.)

John Banks, himself: With the exception of a couple of hearings, Mr Banks has largely been excused from court. He showed up for his failed bid to overturn a District Court decision that he should stand trial and then for the criminal callover.

He announced last year he would step down from the political limelight to focus on the legal proceedings. He’s not contesting the Epsom electorate in the 2014 general election and he handed the reigns over to new ACT Party leader Jamie Whyte earlier this year.

Perhaps the biggest peep the media has heard from Mr Banks this year was his two cents over the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust debacle.

Last month he called for funding decisions for regional amenities to be transferred from the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board to the Auckland Council.

A witness list unlikely to pose for a group photo: It’s unclear who will be called to give evidence next month, including Mr Banks, but one thing is certain, don’t expect to see a group photo outside the courthouse.

Where else in New Zealand can you possibly find Michelle Boag, Kim Dotcom, and SkyCity chief executive Nigel Morrison all in the same room?

In proposed witness statements, a recent court decision says, both Messrs Dotcom and Morrison recall their separate meetings with Mr Banks as well as discussions about donations.

Ms Boag was recently introduced in court proceedings as a fundraising adviser who has now given evidence.

What’s even better is Mr Dotcom’s entourage – including former head bodyguard Wayne Tempero – backs up his evidence. Messrs Dotcom and Tempero have been in their own court scuffle lately. The internet entrepreneur won an interim injunction last month stopping his former bodyguard from speaking publicly about the Dotcoms or their business dealings while he worked for them.

The final witness list has yet to unfold but one can’t help but wonder if Ms Bright will find some obscure pre-colonial law allowing her to apply for speaking rights at the trial.

More by Stephanie Flores

Comments and questions

What an uplifting black comedy so well related. MMP and the uniquely inept NZ political and legal culture is delivering more farce than a Woody Allen movie. Thanks Stephanie and NBR for keeping us in the loop.

The thing that I can't work out is why Dotcom wanted his donations public at all. Surely a man with his history would want quiet influence rather than publicly letting all and sundry know who he is working with.

So sad......government couldnt prosecute but a wee private guy succeeded . Thats the real pantomime

Crown Law takes over & the case may couldnt have seen about give it back to the private guy + $10,000.

"The internet entrepreneur won an interim injunction last month stopping his former bodyguard from speaking publicly about the Dotcoms or their business dealings while he worked for them."

Thank goodness the NSA will already have a copy of this for us all to read at some future point in time!