Judge Jock: Judge Gets Off Hook, OAP Gets A Kicking and Courts Get Corporate

Luke-Warm Breaking News:

Mary-Beth Sharp, also known as Mary-Elizabeth Willis, a district court judge, of Auckland, who was walking her son’s boxer dog George when it startled and slightly injured another walker, was discharged without conviction and ordered to pay $500 compensation.

Judge Sharp, aka Willis, did not appear when her case was called in Auckland district court this week.

According to a media report, Queen’s counsel Privett Reed said Sharp and her family had behaved impeccably towards the female victim, offering financial assistance and even baking her a cake.

Among other things, Judge Kevin Phillips said Sharp, aka Willis, had an unblemished record and a conviction would adversely impact on her job as a judge.

Who is Mary-Beth Sharp, aka Mary-Elizabeth Willis?

In December last year Judge Sharp, aka Willis, refused to let Radio New Zealand tape record a lawyer’s forgery hearing unless the judge herself vetted the intended broadcast before it aired.

Radio New Zealand – which reported the hearing without taping it – refused to be censored by the judge because it would seriously compromise its editorial independence.

Judge Sharp, aka Willis, went on to discharge lawyer Anita Killeen without conviction after the ex-Serious Fraud Office prosecutor pleaded guilty to charges of forgery and using a forged document.

Judicial Conduct Commissioner Sir David Gascoigne later dismissed a complaint against Judge Sharp, aka Willis, that her decision to discharge Ms Killeen was “strongly biased”.
 

When Judges fall out

In 2002 Judge Sharp, aka Willis, was involved in a lively stoush with her neighbour – fellow judge Jane Lovell-Smith – over bright floodlights Judge Sharp, aka Willis, installed around an equestrian area on her lifestyle property.

Judge Lovell-Smith argued the floodlights upset her horses and shone into her house.

The judicial pair were once good chums, but following the lighting incident Judge Lovell-Smith requested she be transferred out of the Manukau Court, where both women sat.

Judge Sharp, aka Willis, has been in regular employment as a judge for 17 years.

Meanwhile, in Another Court

An unemployed beneficiary (93), whose grand-daughter’s little kitten startled a Judge, and who then offered money and baked scones for the Judge in a bid to smooth things over, was sentenced to corrective detention and curfew for hoping it would all go away.

“If the Courts let people like you off Scot-free with this sort of thing there is no knowing where it could lead,” Judge Horrified Acid-Tongue told shame-faced weeping war widow Lizzie Spare-A-Penny-Guv, when ordering the immediate drowning of the offending pussy.

“You will eke out your miserable days at Grim-and-Drafty OAP Corrective Training Centre – what we call a secure gated community - where,” said His Honour, lowering his voice, “an unmarked grave awaits… ”

“You are going nowhere in a hurry… Take her down… ”

Unrelated Footnote: Official figures show 43 people have cut off their home detention ankle bracelets in bids to flee punishment.

Entrepreneurial Initiative from Justice Ministry

Hard on the heels of a Justice Ministry move to save wood by doing away with the dock and making prisoners stand in the body of the court, in front of judges and flanked by police and lawyers, comes this innovative gem from the ministry’s Legal Marketing division.

Selected law firms, along with high-profile barristers, are now able to sponsor courtroom seating for the exclusive use of family, friends and interested parties.

Following the delivery of a wide-ranging scoping report, the initiative is being trialled in Auckland High Court at this stage but it is expected that, as acceptance grows, sponsorship opportunities will be extended to other centres.

It works like this: A certain number of seats in the court public gallery will be available for lease by an approved lawyer, law firm or set of barristerial chambers, much like a corporate box at the tennis or rugby.

The seating will be roped off from the general public and upgraded with cushions closely matching courtroom carpet.

For trials running more than two weeks, an upgrade to lounge-style armchairs will be available, but only in the front row.

Lawyers will be able to erect tasteful banners promoting their various legal services along the back of the exclusive areas.

In the initial “trial” period only six seats will be available in each of four roped-off sections.

Allocation of exclusive seating concessions will be done through the ministry’s normal tendering process.

Representatives of the Judiciary, Crown Law, Law Society, Bar Association and Criminal Bar Association have fine tuned the proposal and are satisfied the new development will encourage greater engagement in the often entertaining but under-valued High Court trial process.

An Innovative Step

In a joint statement they say the innovative step will allow lawyers to invite friends and family – as well as valued clients – to come along to court and enjoy the performances of their legal loved ones from the comfort of exclusively branded “box seats.”

This means folk will know instantly who is a “McVeagher” a “Banksider” or a “Vulcanite”.

Quality in-court catering will also be available on restricted hours to begin with.

A Ministry spokesman says most available “box seats” have been snapped up, with tenderers offering a long-term premium for front-row seats in the middle of the gallery.

One of the technical issues the Ministry’s marketing team has successfully grappled with is the desire by those in “box seats” to see the face and expressions of lead counsel.

Rear End Views

Traditionally, courtroom seating is at the rear of the court, offering only an "anonymous" rear-ends view of robed counsel.

During the trial period alternative arrangements will be implemented on alternate weeks.

One will require the erection of large mirrors slightly behind and at either side of the trial Judge, and positioned to show counsels’ reflection – albeit reversed – to those seated behind them.

The other, and more exciting proposition, is to have “box seaters” positioned in the body of the court, in front of the Judge and directly facing counsel.

Thrills And Spills

Ministry marketeers say this is the much preferred option because it allows inclusive “box seaters” to fully engage “ring-side” in the thrills and spills of a juicy cut-and-thrust trial.

“Law firms are paying a lot for this once-in-a-career marketing opportunity so it is only right they get maximum exposure.

“It’s a value for money thing, really,” a Ministry consultant says.

Unrelated Footnote: The Ministry continues to ponder what happens when “clean” boxes are required for specialist events such as the Judicial Christmas Knees Up.

In Revelations Coming Soon:

Judge Jock, Our Man At The Bar and the cheerful team at the Ladies & Escorts’ Lounge assess the latest batch of QC appointments.

janderson@nbr.co.nz

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