Coroner on Greg King

October 18th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Top lawyer Greg King took his life, depressed, burnt-out, and haunted by the dead from the cases he had known.

Coroner Garry Evans has released his findings into the death of King, 43, whose body was found on November 3, last year, in Dungarvan Rd, Newlands, Wellington, not far from his Mercedes car.

In the car was a typewritten note that began:

“To everyone: How can I explain the unexplainable?”

It said that after nearly 20 years as a defence lawyer he was burnt out, disillusioned and depressed.

“He says he is haunted by the dead from his numerous homicide cases and hates himself for what he has done,” Evans said.

“He says he has been genuinely torn between doing his job and his conscience, which keeps asking him ‘Is this really what you want to be doing?’”

I don’t think I could be a criminal defence attorney. I admire those who can, because it is vital defendants get fair trials and are only found guilty if there is no reasonable doubt. But I would personally struggle with defending those accused of certain vile crimes. I think I would struggle to cope, as Greg King obviously did. It is a mark of his humanity that just performing his role caused him such anguish (not to suggest those without such anguish are  inhumane).

In his finding, Evans mostly paraphrases the note in which King spoke of the experiences with criminals that had dulled his human senses and the victims of serious crime who affected him profoundly.

What a sad loss.

Milnes-King had told the coroner her husband had a massive breakdown in June, 2012, the night after delivering his closing address for Ewen Macdonald in the Scott Guy murder trial.

The trial had taken a substantial toll on him and his breakdown was the most intense she had seen, going on for hours whereas he would usually be able to pick himself up.

In a sense he is a further victim of that tragedy,

In the week before King’s death, The Dominion Post’s investigative reporter Phil Kitchin had approached King about an allegation from a disgruntled former client of irregularities in legal aid billing.

The Ministry of Justice, which administers legal aid, had found King’s legal aid bill for the client’s case had been “well within” the range of what was reasonable and to be expected but in King’s absence the investigation could not be taken further.

A senior police officer who investigated King’s death thought that, in King’s frame of mind at the time, the thought of a media circus over legal aid could have felt overwhelming, but Milnes-King thought her husband was unlikely to have been unduly worried by the allegations made against him.

I think it was probably a factor, but not a determinative factor. The Herald reports:

The police officer who investigated Mr King’s death, Detective Inspector Paul Basham, said he had investigated matters involving Dominion Post investigative reporter Phil Kitchin, who was looking into allegations made against Mr King by a former client.

The disgruntled client had alleged irregularities in legal aid billing.

But he said Ms Milnes-King believed her husband was unlikely to have been unduly bothered by the allegations, and there was no mention in the suicide note.

Kitchin gave evidence he had contacted Mr King on November 1, two days before Mr King was found dead, but described their conversation as “cordial, courteous, professional and polite”.

He told Mr King it was possible he would not publish a story.

What would be interesting to know is whether or not a story was written and was in the system, so to speak. But I think it is far to conclude that the inquiries by the Dominion Post were not a major factor, and were not improper. Of course it is all speculation, as we don’t know exactly what led to the sad decision, but the lack of any mention in the suicide note is influential.

Ms Milnes-King said her husband had helped a lot of individuals and organisations on a pro bono basis, and had a charitable spirit which saw him engaged with numerous groups.

“He represented clients for free and made many unpaid trips to the West Coast acting for the Pike River contractors who were left out of pocket after the tragedy.

“This is an extremely difficult time for our family. With the first anniversary of Greg’s death in a few weeks, we trust people fully understand and respect our need for private time.”

Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar said New Zealand had lost one of the greatest men he had the good fortune to meet.

“Greg gave his time willingly and freely to assist many of the families and victims within the wider Sensible Sentencing Trust family,” Mr McVicar said.

“Greg’s knowledge of the law, his passion for people from all walks of life and his drive to leave society better than he found it was unique and irreplaceable.’

Such a glowing tribute to a defence lawyer from the Sensible Sentencing Trust shows how special Greg King was.  The only good to come out of this will be more people confronting their depression and mental health issues at an early stage to avoid further situations like this.

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King cleared

February 24th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

High-profile lawyer Greg King, who died last year, has been cleared by the Ministry of Justice of wrong-doing after a prisoner accused him of over-billing for legal aid.

King, who defended Scott Guy-murder accused Ewen Macdonald in the most high-profile trial of 2012, died in November. His death was reported to the coroner.

A Rimutaka prisoner convicted of sexual offences had complained King had over-charged for his services by inaccurately putting in for hours worked by his wife, fellow lawyer Catherine Milnes-King.

But the ministry’s deputy secretary of legal and operational services, Nigel Fyfe, told the Herald on Sunday an investigation found nothing untoward on King’s part.

The allegations were the subject of newspaper inquiries by Fairfax staff to King just prior to his death. It is good he has been officially cleared.

Experts on suicide always stress there is never any one cause. But it will be interesting to read what the Coroner determines to have been the factors that contributed to the tragic decision King made to end his life.

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Macdonald up for parole

December 10th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Kathryn Powley at NZ Herald reports:

Ewen Macdonald faces his first Parole Board hearing at Manawatu Prison on Tuesday.

Macdonald is serving a five-year sentence for arson, vandalism and killing deer and calves on neighbouring Feilding farms.

Much of his time in prison was served while on remand and during his trial for the July 2010 murder of his wife’s brother, Scott Guy. In July, he was found not guilty of Guy’s murder.

Macdonald has served a third of his sentence, meaning he is eligible for parole, but it would be very unusual for parole to be granted at a prisoner’s first hearing.

Personally I think the fact that Macdonald appears to have sociopath tendencies is a pretty good reason not to give him parole!

The same story also reports:

Meanwhile, a prisoner has complained about the way Macdonald’s lawyer Greg King handled a previous case.

Law Society president Jonathan Temm told the Herald on Sunday a prisoner on a long term of imprisonment for a “whole range of very serious sexual offences” was at the heart of the report. The prisoner is understood to be in Rimutaka.

“He has made a complaint against Mr King’s conduct as his trial counsel and he is represented by a relatively senior member of the profession on the appeal.”

Temm would not comment on the merits of the appeal, but noted some people convicted of serious offending often complained about their lawyer.

“I’m not sure whether complaints against Mr King will resonate with a result that [the prisoner] will get a new trial, but who knows? These things do happen.”

The prisoner’s complaint also claimed impropriety around a legal aid claim.

Temm said there was no complaint before the Law Society about King and he believed the complaint had been to the Ministry of Justice.

However, a ministry spokesman would not comment, citing an order from Coroner Wallace Bain suppressing details around King’s death.

Again this substantiates the story broken a month ago by Truth. They have left out the fact that a call was made by the Dominion Post to the King family about the legal aid allegations shortly before his death.

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The silence of the media

November 16th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

NBR reports:

A call from the Dominion Post may have been the “final straw” which pushed leading crime lawyer Greg King to take his own life.

Wellington lawyer Nikki Pender says it looked like Mr King did get a call from the Dominion Post which she says was just the “final straw”.

This confirms the story broken by Truth. The only other media publication to touch on this revelation is NBR. I’m amazed that Mediawatch did not deem it worthwhile to even ask the Dominion Post if their staff called Greg King just before he died. Did the Herald ask any questions of the Dominion Post such as “Is it true you had written a story on Greg King, which you pulled just before the print deadline”.

Greg King’s death is tragic and profoundly sad. It is even more tragic if the catalyst was a story about a dispute over $1,500 of legal aid hours. Would journalists at the Dominion Post accept a refuse to comment from any of the subjects of their investigations? So, why is it acceptable from the newspaper itself?

I’m not saying the Dominion Post has done anything wrong. But I am saying they should front up and explain exactly what their involvement was.

When Christine Rankin was thought to be involved with the family of a woman who killed herself, the Dominion Post and other Fairfax papers pursued the story with vigour. There was no sense of being inappropriate to comment until the Coroner’s Report. The double standards in this case are hypocritical. I can understand the double standard from the Dom Post (who naturally do not want bad publicity), but why are other media and shows that are meant to focus on the media not reporting on this?

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Greg King tributes

November 5th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

As I said at the weekend, Greg King was not just a top lawyer, but someone who could engage without rancour on important issues around our justice system. This is reflected by the fact that tributes have come from family members of murder victims where he represented the killer, and many others. I’ve gone through various sites to gather some of the tributes.

  • Lesley Elliott said she was “shattered” by his death.  While the family might not have appreciated Mr King’s “tactics” during Weatherston’s trial, the lawyer earned their admiration and respect. His personal side was sympathetic, generous, passionate and humane, she said. She had attended justice forums at which Mr King was a lone voice on some issues. He was prepared to be at odds with others, but the “great thing about him” was an ability to listen and engage.
  • Sophie’s father, Gil Elliott, said Mr King was extremely intelligent, courteous and friendly. “He admired Sophie, he told me that.”
  • Auckland Crown Solicitor Simon Moore, SC, said the thing he most admired about Mr King was his “completely principled approach to everything he did”. He had a “sense of proportion” which made him such an effective advocate.
  • Barry Hart said Mr King was the architect of Dixon’s appeal and eventual 2008 retrial. He added that he was reeling from his friend’s death. “He’s helped me and gone beyond the call of duty to assist me both as a friend and as a fellow lawyer in my time of need. I don’t want to really go into all of that but Greg was there for me and, as I say, I’m in disbelief.”
  • Convicted double murderer John Barlow told 3 News: “In prison, people talk about lawyers a lot. There’s only one lawyer that came up a lot and every single time people praised him, whether he’d won their case or not.”
  • Wainuiomata Rugby League Club spokesman Simon Itula said King played a significant role in rescuing the club from serious financial trouble when he became involved as a sponsor in 2008. … “He was just hugely inspirational and always positive. Even though we knew we were struggling and we felt there was no way out, he would always come in and allow us to remain positive.”
  • Former Wellington District Law Society president Gary Turkington said … “He was very affable and enormously liked and had the gift of the gab, which is pretty essential if you’re in criminal work. “He’ll be sorely missed.”
  • Former MP and fellow Wellington lawyer Stephen Franks said he would remember King as a man deeply concerned about issues of law reform. “For me Greg was like coming across an oasis in the desert. “It was so refreshing to find someone who wanted to put time into improving it [the legal system] and open-minded about the criticisms.”
  •  “Although young in years, Greg King had already achieved a huge amount in his career,” Chris Finlayson told NBR. “He was a lawyer in the finest traditions of the criminal bar, of the same stature as the likes of Mike Bungay, Kevin Ryan and Roy Stacey. “He was a fine advocate and a very nice guy. His early death is very sad, and my deepest sympathies go to his family at this time.”
  • Law Society head Jonathan Temm said the legal profession was “tremendously saddened” by Mr King’s death. “Throughout his career he represented clients who were often unpopular and he did that with real ability and determination,” Mr Temm said.
  • Dunedin Crown solicitor Robin Bates said he was saddened by Mr King’s death. They had appeared on opposing sides in cases, in which Mr King was a “fine advocate” who fought hard for his clients. “Greg was one of those people who was straight up, and direct, and you knew where you stood with him … his word was his bond in that regard.”
  • Otago University Faculty of Law dean Prof Mark Henaghan spoke highly of his former student, whose career he followed with interest and pride. Mr King had been subject to massive public vitriol for doing the crucial work of a defence lawyer, a role whose importance in the legal system was under-estimated by the public, Prof Henaghan said. … Mr King, who started law school in Dunedin in 1989, was a conscientious and questioning student who went on to an extraordinary career in which he was counsel in about 50 homicide cases, Prof Henaghan said. He was unusual in taking some at his own expense, and remaining sensitive to victims while being an outstanding advocate for the accused.
  • His mentor, Dunedin lawyer Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, was distraught when contacted on Saturday. “I’m absolutely devastated,” she said. “He was like a son to me.”
  • GPT - I heard the news about an hour ago. To say it is shocking is an understatement. A tragedy, especially with a young family. I was fortunate enough to met Greg several years ago at Lit Skills. He was simply inspirational. The law and advocacy simply flowed from him. He was genuine, supportive and personally interested and, freakishly, would remember you even years later. As with so many of the most brilliant he had his eccentricities – I remember someone telling me that if it wasn’t for his staff he would never earn any money because all he did was law. Billing just happened. Clearly he also had some serious demons. The profession has lost a giant but his family have lost so much more and with them my thoughts are with.
  • FE Smith - A great lawyer, fantastic raconteur, wonderful teacher of other lawyers, and all around good guy. A judge in the making if ever there was one. We will all miss his presence at the Defence Bar.
  • Finlay Torrance - I sit here stunned at the loss of a great friend. I have had the privilege of knowing Greg since his varsity days and only have great things to say about the man,I just cant for the life of me get my head around the fact he is gone.
  • David Garrett - All I want to say is that Greg represented me without charge in my fight against the Law Society to get my practising certificate back. He knew I was not in a position to pay him. At a rough guess, he probably gave me $5,000 of his time when he knew I could not pay. We were nominally on opposite sides of the law and order debate. I respected him greatly, and I feel immensely for his wife and children.
  • Sandy - He didn’t know how to say no to helping people. … NZ has lost one of its greatest. We met only a few times but had mutual friends and how far this guy went for clients, both as a lawyer and human being was phenomenal. … His intellect was above and beyond, his drive and quest to improve life for the underdog unmatched.

Quotes from NZ Herald, Stuff, NBR, ODT, and comments on Kiwiblog.

UPDATE: I must include this column by Sir Bob Jones:

Greg King was one of the finest men I ever met. … He will be remembered by all who knew him as a very special human, whom we will all miss dreadfully.

High praise.

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RIP Greg King

November 3rd, 2012 at 5:43 pm by David Farrar

The media have just started to report that top lawyer Greg King is dead. My thoughts go out to his wife with two young daughters, but King’s death will touch many many people. He was one of , if not the most, respected criminal defence lawyers in NZ. He also had a great passion for public policy, and presented the Court Report and often took part in forums with others like Stephen Franks, as an exemplar of identifying issues, and agreeing or disagreeing on solutions without rancour.

His death is a huge loss to the legal fraternity, and those who knew him well. And again, his family most of all.

His death has been reported as non-suspicious and referred to the coroner, which of course is code for suicide. All suicides are hard to comprehend, and this one almost inexplicable. It makes his death even more tragic.

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Christie’s Law

October 22nd, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Mr King said he supported parts of Christie’s Law, the proposed amendments to the bail Act campaigned for by Christie’s parents after her death in November last year. …

Mr King said parts of Christie’s Law were “sophisticated” and “thought-through” but he said a suggested risk assessment tool to judge judges was “costly gobbledegook”.

He backed changes to the law that currently give a strong presumption of bail for those who are under 20, saying it would have made a difference in Christie’s case.

Rare for a defence lawyer to support a law change which will make it harder for defendants (under 20) to get bail, so good to see this. I think the key point is that the current law made it very hard for a Judge to refuse bail, and removing the presumption of bail may have meant Chand would not have got bail, and hence killed Christie Marceau.

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