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Life made easier thanks to pro bono work

28 April 2014

The results of a tragic accident – which has left a young woman without her partner and her daughters without a father – have been eased a little, thanks to pro bono legal work.

Gregory Woledge died following a car crash on the Maungatapu bridge, which crosses Tauranga Harbour, at about 6pm on 12 August 2013.

The vehicle Iain Stewart Crisp was driving veered across the centre line and collided head on with Mr Woledge’s van. The van became airborne, crashed through the bridge railings and plunged into the harbour.

Mr Woledge was trapped inside the submerged van and died despite efforts to save him. Ashley Donkersley, who was a passenger in the van, managed to force open the passenger door and escape the van. Constable Dean O’Conner then leapt off the bridge to save Mr Donkersley.

After crashing into Mr Woledge’s car, Mr Crisp’s vehicle spun 180 degrees and ended up in a head-on collision with another vehicle. Mr Crisp was trapped in his car and had to be cut out by emergency services and taken to Tauranga Hospital. A blood sample taken at the hospital at 8.34pm revealed that within the previous three hours he had consumed the equivalent of one cannabis cigarette.

Mr Crisp has pleaded guilty to careless use of a motor vehicle causing death and careless use of a motor vehicle causing injury, as well as other charges, including possessing cannabis for supply.

When the accident happened, Mr Woledge’s partner had a daughter aged 2 years 11 months and she was six months pregnant. She has since given birth to a daughter.

Mr Crisp has offered $29,000 reparation to assist the two young girls, who are now without a father.

At first the mother did not want to accept the reparation, because she viewed it as “blood money”. However Tauranga lawyer David Pawson, who is a Police prosecutor, discussed it further with her.

He suggested to her that she could accept it, not for herself, but for the benefit of her two daughters. Mr Pawson then arranged for Holland Beckett partner Bill Holland to set up a trust, which he agreed to do pro bono.

“I am very glad that Bill Holland has agreed to work pro bono to set up the trust for these two young girls,” Mr Pawson says.

“I am really impressed and I am really grateful that he has stepped up to help in this very sad case.

“Despite the public perception of lawyers, we have got a good bar across New Zealand. It’s nice when people like Bill step up and demonstrate that we have a good bar.”

When Mr Pawson contacted him to see if he could set up a trust for the benefit of these two little children, Mr Holland was only too pleased to assist.

Because he is working pro bono, “the whole of this amount will be available to these little girls”. And given that the reparation is only $29,000, “you don’t want to swallow it up with legal fees,” Mr Holland says.

“As lawyers, we are a very privileged group in our society. We are very fortunate to be in the position that we are, and it’s one that carries certain responsibilities – social responsibilities.

“We are in such a fortunate position in that we can do it. We have knowledge and expertise that others don’t have.”

When the idea of talking with LawTalk was first broached, Mr Holland was reticent, but on reflection he decided that it would be a good idea to help get the message of the importance of pro bono work emphasised, particularly for young lawyers and law students.

“This is what you do. This is the way that lawyers act,” he says.

“It’s the sort of thing you will be telling your kids to do. It’s the sort of thing I tell my kids to do and they do it. We’ve got 38 lawyers here [in Holland Beckett] and there is a culture of pro bono within the firm.

“And I know a lot of other firms and a lot of other lawyers are doing exactly the same thing.

“What I’ve done is no big deal. It’s something a lawyer has to do. [The mother] can’t do it for herself. But it’s a big deal for her and it’s just made things a whole lot easier.”

Helping in this way brings personal rewards, too, Mr Holland notes.

“You feel good about it, and you’re entitled to feel good about it. It’s nice knowing that you can make a difference – that you are helping people.”

On 7 April, Mr Crisp was sentenced to 250 hours community work by Judge Christopher Harding in the Tauranga District Court. He was also ordered to pay $29,000 in emotional harm to the Greg Woledge Trust, $9,000 in emotional harm to Ashley Donkersley, $11,000 to the driver of the third vehicle involved in the crash and $16,134 for damage done to the bridge. He was also disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Lawyers who would like to contribute to the Greg Woledge Trust can contact either Mr Holland, phone 07 578 2199, or Mr Pawson, david.pawson@police.govt.nz.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016