By Steven | November 5, 2012
There are two New Zealanders whose untimely deaths have left me with a profound sadness, not just for them and their families, but also for the rest of us, because we’ve been deprived of the contribution they would have continued to make. One was Rod Donald. The other is Greg King.
Most people know Greg was a fantastic lawyer. He defended people with flair and passion. His success in many of those battles is testament to his extraordinary skill. He’s the guy I would have gone to if I was charged with murder. Anyone familiar with criminal law will tell you that it takes a rare mix of talents to do it well: doggedness, strategic savviness, a shrewd eye for detail, legal smarts, an instinct for what makes people tick, the gift of the gab, a readiness to be hated, the ability to handle severe pressure for long periods of time. It’s grim work, often tedious, and less glamorous and lucrative than most people think. Greg was one of the best in the business.
Greg was admired for the reasons lawyers like to be admired: he battled for the unpopular people; he often worked pro bono, he was a great orator, he was principled.
Some brilliant trial lawyers find it difficult making the transition to arguing points of law on appeal. Not Greg. I saw him arguing an important case before the Supreme Court, and he was terrific: thoughtful, measured, knowledgeable, convincing.
As some of you will know, I worked with him on the TVNZ7 show The Court Report. He hosted it, and I was the reporter for the first seasons. That was really how I came to know him. I don’t think he had any formal training in broadcasting but he was a natural. The things that made him a great lawyer also made him a great presenter: he was a good listener, he was funny, he was self-effacing, he was a quick study, he liked people, he was a tremendous communicator, he had a wide knowledge of how the law worked, he cared about issues, and he had a good bullshit detector. He was often more interesting to listen to than the guests (and that would include me…).
I remember that he was always immaculately dressed. He had presence. Even his hair had a devoted following.
It continues to astonish me how he got on so well with the people who should, by rights, have loathed him. He was mates with Garth McVicar. He got on well with Greg O’Connor. He was on friendly terms with Sophie Elliot’s parents, even though he defended her murderer. (He was flattered when they told him he was the only one who took the time to explain to them what was going on during the trial). And there is the measure of the man: he took time for people, talked to them, joked with them, had a drink with them, shared a yarn, asked after them, passed on some gossip, debated them, charmed them.
If there’s a heaven, Greg is no doubt being a devil’s advocate. I wouldn’t bet against an acquittal.
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