Justice Bill Wilson quits

Embattled Supreme Court Justice William McLeod Wilson (65) has quit.

A historic announcement of Justice Wilson’s resignation was made this afternoon by acting attorney-general Judith Collins.

His resignation comes in the wake of unprecedented misconduct complaints and a more-than-one-year-long robust investigation by the National Business Review.

It is the first time a New Zealand judge has quit under a cloud of misconduct complaints.

Justice Wilson’s resignation was expected to end any further official inquiry into his conduct.

Justice Wilson failed to step down or make full disclosure of his business and financial relationship with Auckland Queen’s counsel Alan Galbraith when sitting as a member of the Court of Appeal in an appeal in which Mr Galbraith featured.

Mr Galbraith represented the Wool Board Disestablishment Company (Disco) in a successful appeal against superfine wool producers Saxmere over wool board levies.

The judge, who was subsequently promoted to the Supreme Court, failed to tell the whole truth about the extent of his financial relationship with Mr Galbraith when questioned by fellow Supreme Court judges.

A judicial conduct panel was set-up after judicial conduct commissioner Sir David Gascoigne found complaints against Justice Wilson required a full public inquiry.

A three-judge High Court review asked Sir David to be more specific in identifying the misconduct he believed should be investigated.

How it all began
In 2007, Justice Wilson was on the Court of Appeal bench that overturned a 2005 High Court decision, which saw Saxmere win against Disco. The High Court found unlawful conduct by the Wool Board, negligence and breach of statutory duty.

Disco lawyer, Alan Galbraith QC and Justice Wilson were the co-owners of Rich Hill Ltd, a company that owned land near Matamata occupied by Rich Hill Thoroughbreds, a horse stud also part-owned by Mr Galbraith. Chief Justice Sian Elias and her husband Hugh Fletcher were also involved in racehorse ownership with the pair.

After an initial attempt suggesting possible bias in relation to the Court of Appeal decision failed at the Supreme Court July, 2009, the Saxmere camp then made an application for it to recall its earlier decision.

New evidence was presented, which ultimately led to the Supreme Court finding that Justice Wilson was financially indebted to Mr Galbraith to the tune of about $250,000, partly due to the murkiness of the business finances. The Supreme Court ordered a rehearing at the Court of Appeal, which happened in late June. Its decision was reserved and remains pending.

Following the Supreme Court decision last year, complaints were lodged with the Judicial Conduct Commissioner by Saxmere and others, including retired judge Sir Ted Thomas, over Justice Wilson’s failure to fully disclose his relationship with Mr Galbraith and his subsequent conduct, which involved the Supreme Court essentially prising financial information out of him.

The JCC recommended an independent Judicial Conduct Panel be created to further investigate Justice Wilson’s conduct.

Justice Wilson sought a judicial review to consider the legality of the JCC’s decision to recommend the panel.

The judicial review quashed the JCC’s decision to recommend a panel and required commissioner Sir David Gascoigne to re-form his opinion and make a complete recommendation.

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