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Edward (Eb) Poulter Leary, 1944 - 2016

By Geoff Adlam

Auckland barrister Eb Leary died on 7 February 2016 of cancer. He was aged 71. Well known during the 1970s and 1980s as one of New Zealand's leading criminal defenders, Mr Leary's legal career came to an abrupt halt when he was struck off in 1987, but resumed 20 years later when he was reinstated to the roll.

He was born on 12 November 1944. His parents were renowned barrister Leonard Leary QC and his wife Lovelace.

Eb was educated at King's School and then King's College before studying law at Auckland University. After admission as a barrister and solicitor in 1972 he worked at Chilwell and Pain before setting up his own practice. He quickly forged a reputation as a powerful and effective advocate. While he appeared in civil matters, he became known for his work as a criminal defence lawyer.

He successfully represented many clients, but it was one with whom his name has been linked. Mr Leary was the lawyer for the notorious Terry Clark, head of the Mr Asia drug ring. Clark was charged with conspiring to import heroin from Fiji in late 1976 and was represented by Eb Leary and Peter Williams. A delay in proceedings meant he was granted bail and he fled to Australia. After being arrested in Brisbane he was extradited to New Zealand in June 1978 and again stood trial. As his solicitor, Eb Leary retained Peter Williams to defend Clark, who was found not guilty. Following Clark's arrest in England a year later Mr Leary travelled there to assist in his defence.

While his career as a criminal defender flourished in the 1980s, Eb Leary's association with Terry Clark finally resulted in him being struck off the roll of barristers and solicitors by the Court of Appeal on 15 April 1987.

There were six charges against him, the most serious being that in February or March 1975 he had facilitated arrangements enabling clients – including Terry Clark – to locate and/or take possession of cannabis plant material; that he had given false evidence about Clark on 22 July 1982 to the Royal Commission into drug trafficking in Australia; and that he had attempted to deceive the Inland Revenue Department on 4 December 1979 when answering a question as to the financial affairs of Clark. There were three other charges relating to his trust account and receipt or payment of money on behalf of Clark.

Deciding that he should be struck off, the Court of Appeal concluded: "The drug matter in 1975 is very serious and the attempts to deceive the Inland Revenue Department in 1979 and the Royal Commissioner in 1982 are at least serious. The other three proved charges are instances of fairly minor misconduct in a professional capacity. Individually they are much less serious but together they would be enough to impair the Court's confidence in the practitioner. The total effect of the six matters is to destroy that confidence."  Auckland District Law Society v Leary, 15 April 1987, CA200/86 at page 80.

Twenty years later, when he was applying to re-enter practice, Mr Leary looked back at the time of striking off:

"I feel that no amount of time will ever assuage my inner feeling of ignominy. Having damned myself by my own actions I had also damned the high expectation of my colleagues, the Judiciary, the public and family. This was compounded by failure of a good marriage. Having previously enjoyed respect at the Criminal Bar, the process of atonement and re-establishment of self would prove to be an arduous challenge."

No longer a lawyer, Eb Leary moved into the fish business. He successfully set up a processing and exporting company, Asia Pacific, in Ponsonby to sell and export smoked salmon, his company winning several food awards. He showed a commitment to employing and training locals.

He married Geraldine in 1990 and some years afterwards she won $830,000 in Lotto. The couple used this to purchase Kingfish Lodge on Whangaroa Harbour in 1993. They developed this into an exclusive game fishing resort. Again, the focus was on employing and developing the skills of locals. Mr Leary became a board member of the Whangaroa Health Services Trust in 1999. This was a government-approved organisation which delivered free primary health care to the local community.

Eb and Geraldine sold Kingfish Lodge in December 2002 and moved to Mount Maunganui. Geraldine became ill with cancer and they moved to Auckland where she died in March 2006.

On 23 June 2006, aged 61, Mr Leary applied under section 116 of the Law Practioners Act 1982 for restoration of his name to the roll of barristers and solicitors. It appears that he had intended to seek readmission earlier, but had abandoned this to care for Geraldine.

In his application he gave an undertaking that he would only apply to hold a practising certificate as a barrister. In support he provided 81 testimonials of which one was from a retired High Court Judge, six from District Court Judges, 15 from Queen's Counsel, five from the Auckland Crown solicitor's Office, 16 from barristers, 10 from barristers and solicitors and the remainder from members of the fishing industry and the community. Several individuals and the Waikato Bay of Plenty and Otago District Law Societies objected when the New Zealand Law Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal advertised his application widely and in great detail. The New Zealand Law Society and Auckland District Law Society both appeared at the hearing and took the stance that they did not consent but did not actively oppose his application.

He met an initial hurdle when his application was dismissed by the Tribunal on 31 October 2006.

Undaunted, Eb Leary appealed to the High Court. On 21 August 2007 a full bench of the Court allowed his appeal (Leary v New Zealand Law Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal [2008] NZAR 57).

"In our view, the evidence demonstrated Mr Leary's acceptance of his past wrongdoing. More importantly, it demonstrated his acceptance of his need for reform and his efforts in achieving that reform in difficult circumstances over 20 years. His evidence, and the very considerable body of support from persons of integrity should have given the Tribunal confidence that Mr Leary would not re-offend," the High Court concluded.

Restored to the roll, Eb Leary began practising as a barrister again. He told the New Zealand Herald that he had followed the changes to criminal law over the years, and had recently bought a textbook "to help him to brush up further".

"You might have left the law but the law will never leave you."

His second time in legal practice did not always run smoothly. A year after his readmission he, his second wife Claudine and associate Nicholas Henri Voerman were charged with money laundering. The charge against Mr Leary was dismissed after a High Court ruling on the admissibility of hearsay evidence. Claudine pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Eb Leary continued to practise until last year. He is survived by his wife Claudine and his children James and Andrew.

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Last updated on the 3rd June 2016