A His and Hers tale of two judges

As the changes are rung at the Independent Police Conduct Authority, NBR Online recalls colourful episodes involving she who is out and he who is in.

As the changes are rung at the Independent Police Conduct Authority, NBR Online recalls colourful episodes involving she who is out and he who is in.

Horse-lover Justice Lowell Goddard’s five-year term as chairwoman of the IPCA is over and she hands the whip to former chief district court judge Sir David Carruthers, unkindly nicknamed “Budgie” by legal gossipers.

Justice Minister Judith Collins has thanked Justice Goddard for her work and welcomed Sir David to his new job.

So, who are they?
A Pahiatua lawyer for 20 years, Sir David went on to the dizzy heights of district court judge, family court judge, principal youth court judge, chief district court judge and chairman of the parole board.

Never far from the headlines, he cracked the cone of conventional judicial silence when, in 2001 – and after refusing to answer National Business Review's questions – he leapt into print elsewhere to defend the dodgy performance of fellow judge and ex-Christchurch barrister Tony Willy.

Judge Willy was found by High Court Justice Grant Hammond to have misconducted himself so seriously and unfairly in his handling of a Tauranga property dispute that a complete retrial was ordered.

When NBR exposed Judge Willy’s misconduct under the heading “Rogue district court judge wreaks judicial havoc”, Sir David, then the yet-to-be-knighted chief district court judge and Judge Willy’s boss, ducked for cover, as did Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.

Despite serious concerns expressed by lawyers about the judge’s misconduct and whether he should stay in the job, both judicial leaders refused to comment to NBR on the future of Judge Willy – then on $186,000 a year – and what action would be taken against him.

Sir David then defended Judge Willy’s performance in specialist legal publication New Zealand Lawyer – an organ which did not ask hard questions.

Sir David was allowed to say the judiciary was “taking on the chin” recent “bad press” for some of its members – a reference to NBR’s exposure of Judge Willy.

Threatened contempt action came to nothing
He even waved the big stick at NBR, saying contempt of court proceedings may follow.

They didn’t because there were clearly no grounds for such desperately punitive action.

Solicitor-General Terence Arnold – now a Justice of the Court of Appeal – also rushed to Judge Willy’s defence, saying it was all part of living in a democracy, whatever that meant.

In the New Zealand Lawyer story, Sir David said Judge Willy was “setting agreed protocols” to get to the top of a serious backlog of civil cases.

He went even further, saying Judge Willy’s performance was “a measured response to a serious arrears of civil work; it was an approach that had the full support of lawyers…”

All of which would have been news to Justice Hammond, who described the case Judge Willy blew as an “economic disaster” for the parties.

Justice Hammond’s ruling, and other appeal judgments, showed Judge Willy was the target of a range of accusations including bias, unfairness, impatience, brusqueness, skepticism, sarcasm, disruption, irrelevance, irritation, aggression, unprovoked interventions, lack of understanding, prejudice and unevenness.

A handy man with a pen 
An occasional earnest writer of letters to NBR, Sir David burst into the headlines in September 2004 when he defended Judge Barry Lovegrove for granting bail to an insane man who then promptly murdered his father’s former partner.

The same month, again in his capacity as chief district court judge, he refused to investigate an assault complaint against two prison officers for fear of being “swamped” with other inmates’ claims.

In July 2004 he backed Judge Stephen Erber’s silly “social commentary” attack on the Christchurch Casino, a well-run and established commercial entity which Judge Erber clearly disapproved of.

In 2003 he displayed curious judgment when he backed Judge Russell Johnson’s decision to allow schoolchildren to sit next to him while he dealt with criminals in Manukau District Court – an “experiment” condemned by public and lawyers alike.

The previous year Sir David backed Judge Michael Lance, who won a big payout after a radio talkback host repeatedly berated him disrespectfully for his treatments of defendants.

In 2010, and after a lengthy police investigation, retired Judge Lance (73), had the good fortune to have a criminal charge of intentionally “keying” a parked car outside his Takapuna apartment dismissed.

She writes letters, too
The woman Sir David succeeds as head of the IPCA is herself no stranger to writing letters to NBR.

When NBR asked Justice Goddard in 2010 who paid the travel to and from Wellington and accommodation for her new Nelson-based spin doctor Kathryn Street – girlfriend of lesbian Labour MP Maryan Street – her brief response was a “we [the IPCA] don’t pay”.

The email sent on Justice Goddard’s behalf by her corporate services manager was signed off with “kind regards”.

An email in which the judge thanked her manager for the statement found its way to NBR.

“Very good – apart from the ‘kind regards’ at the end”, wrote Her Honour.

Did she want the top job?
The longest-serving High Court judge, Justice Goddard - a chum of Chief Justice Elias and part of the Wellington girls’ elite - was concerned in 2010 about unconfirmed reports emanating from high circles in Wellington she was lining herself up for the job of governor-general.

Stories circulated at a time Justice Goddard launched a IPCA national inquiry into the police handling of child abuse cases – seen by some as an ambitious mirror of Justice [later Dame] Silvia Cartwright’s inquiry into cervical screening at National Women’s Hospital.

Wellington insiders felt there was a perception Justice Goddard may have been on a personal crusade to make a high-profile for herself in order to land the plum vice-regal job.

Justice Goddard played a second-fiddle lawyer working on Justice Cartwright’s 1987/88 inquiry.

Justice Cartwright became New Zealand’s second female governor-general in 2001.

How she peeved off police
Police expressed concern in 2010 at Justice Goddard’s attitude to policing, especially the use of tasers, how sex abuse cases were handled, her call for police to be drug and alcohol tested and her crackdown on high speed police pursuits.

At the time Police Association president Greg O’Connor said police were disturbed Justice Goddard’s criticism of them was “inevitable” and said the IPCA was “out of touch with the realities of policing”.

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