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Judge Michael Ray Radford, 1947 – 2011

Michael Ray Radford died on 16 March 2011 aged 63. Judge Radford had a long career in the Otago region and over that time he touched the lives of many. The Otago branch, in honouring such a long-serving colleague, wanted to reflect this.

I had the privilege of knowing Mike in a number of capacities. I started my legal career working with Mike and became a partner in the firm of Aspinall Joel with him. We worked together in a number of cases and conducted a number of trials together.

I then had Mike appear before me as counsel after I had been appointed a Judge.

Mike’s greatest quality as an advocate in a criminal trial was to use his talents in advancing his client’s defence. He did not advance 10 defences in the hope that one would succeed. He would always tell a Judge or a jury at the outset of the case what the client’s defence was and everything was directed towards that defence.

Mike was a gentle and kind cross-examiner; he was never a bully. He was great to work with and was an excellent teacher; I learnt a lot from him and will miss our frequent chats that we would have, particularly after his appointment to the Bench.

- Judge S J O’Driscoll

My close association with Michael Radford as a partner and friend stems from the amalgamation of our two partnerships to form the firm Aspinall Joel Radford Bowler. He always impressed one as a knowledgeable, capable and confident lawyer. His personality was consistently that of an even tempered man with a ready wit, and an understanding of his duty to clients in the course of his Practice, whilst approaching his work in a helpful and friendly way. That he should eventually attain the higher status of an appointment to the Bench, could be of little surprise to those of us in legal circles with whom he closely acquainted. His early death at the peak of a promising career as a Judge, is hard to accept.

The Honorable Michael Radford (“Mike” to so many), is remembered by myself personally as always a colleague and friend.

- HL Aspinall

Well Mike, the last time I had to talk about you was at your bar dinner following your swearing in as a District Court Judge. For me, that was a particularly special occasion given our long association. I remember meeting you thirty plus years ago when I was a law student and quite frankly being somewhat overawed at meeting a lawyer who had, at that point, been involved in a number of high profile cases including murder trials.

Over the years through a variety of mutual interests, our friendship grew. I still recall the first weekend in May, duck shooting, sitting in a mai mai at 6.00am pretending that we were enjoying ourselves and wondering whether we could legitimately open the mulled wine to warm ourselves up. This notwithstanding that we knew full well that the mulled wine was really mulled rum!

I remember fondly the motorcycle trips, the time in Wairoa in the Hawkes Bay, a haven for Black Power and Mongrel Mob members, where you waited outside with the motor bikes while I went in to get coffee. The owner of the milk bar, as he was making the coffee, expressed the hope that the person looking after the motor cycles was “a big bloke”. Well, we got out of there alive, and I recall having a wonderful few days riding around East Cape, staying in country pubs, and just thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

You will remember the Karamea whitebait patties. Some years we travelled through to Karamea on the bikes just so we could stay in the Karamea Pub, a communal shower and toilet, light switches with strings on them, but startlingly good meals of whitebait patties (at least 8 inches across) chips, eggs, coleslaw and beetroot. It was a great step back in time, times that were hugely enjoyable. You will remember one year when we tried to get to Karamea and couldn’t get past Haast because of the rain. We stayed in the Haast Pub, I thought there was a little bloke up in the roof just pouring 44 gallon drums of water onto the roof. The next morning we decided we would head back to Otago. That was interesting! Heading up to the gates of Haast, the rivers had come up so much that there were cattle all over the road. It is not that much fun riding through pouring rain, trying to avoid Hereford Steers and hoping like hell one of them wasn’t a bull and, at the same time, avoiding the cascading road waterfalls.

Anyway mate, I am seriously gutted that you are not here anymore. I miss being able to ring you with a problem and relying on your wise counsel. I miss the collegiality that you always offered. I miss sitting in the robing room after a jury trial, waiting for the jury to finish their deliberations, and you pulling out a large bottle of rum and a bottle of coke and a couple of glasses and saying “well Dean, we have done what we can, here’s hoping the system works!”. And it’s one of those funny things that it’s only when somebody you know very well, and care about a great deal, has gone that you really appreciate the loss.

Anyway mate, it was too soon but there it is. Thanks for everything.

- Bill Dean

I first met Mike when our firm negotiated the purchase of the Roxburgh branch of Gallaway Son and Chettburg in 1980. Mike was a partner in Gallaways at that time.

Most of my serious criminal matters got sent down to Michael and his skills in advocacy and my skills in doing the behind the scenes investigations led to many successful results.

He was always willing to help young practitioners and enjoyed debates (usually over a rum) about current affairs and legal issues. He was a man who had lots of enthusiasms, some of which endeared him and some of which didn't: he was one of the first enthusiastic adopters of computers and software for the office.

He was one of the most naturally talented sportsman I knew: you never bet against Radford in golf, billiards or clay bird shooting. No matter what happened the night before he would always perform superbly when the chips were down.

He was an honourable man in business and the law. His meeting his share of an unsuccessful business venture debt when others walked away from their obligations left a lasting impression.

His most enduring piece of advice was “treat all members f the judiciary as rabid dogs” Quite how he reconciled that statement with his elevation to the District Court bench he could never satisfactorily explain! Radford was a character, mentor and a friend.

- Russell Checketts

I first encountered His Honour Judge Michael Ray Radford when he phoned me at 8:00am one morning as I was having breakfast, to invite me to come in to the office for an interview. This was in response to a “please give me a job” letter and CV I had sent to a number of Dunedin firms.

I found out I had got the job, when a few weeks later I was at the District Court to observe, bumped into Mike in the corridor when he said to me “Oh, you’ve got that job if you want it …”. To this day, I wonder if I hadn’t seen Mike at the Courthouse that day whether I would have worked for him, as I did for the next 14 years.

What those two experiences should have told me about Mike was:

(a) he was very much a “morning lark”, preferring to start early and get things done then (perhaps because he viewed the hours after 4:00pm as best kept for socialising); and

(b) he could at times be impulsive, but that was not necessarily a bad thing!

Mike taught me huge amounts – in part by letting me make my own mistakes and then learn from them. So when he let me loose for the first time on a criminal client who had failed to turn up to Court, and I told the client to go and talk to the Police, he made sure I was the person who attended Court that afternoon at 2:15pm to apply for bail for that particular individual who had (unsurprisingly) been arrested by the Police on the outstanding warrant for his arrest when he reported to them. I never made that mistake again! 

Mike had an amazing ability to engage with juries, as well as immense intellectual capacity to make sense of the confusion which can be evidence and tell juries a story. His voice, with its wonderful gravelly undertone, entranced jurors as they listened to his addresses. He always understood the role of defence counsel to test the prosecution case and persuade the Court of the appropriate interpretation of the law.

His ability to cut to the heart of matters was evident many times, but the particular case I recall was one where our client was alleged to have indecently assaulted a small girl on her narrow “2 foot 6 inch” bed. Mike obtained a tape measure to demonstrate to the jury that our rather large client would have to have been a contortionist to be able to carry out the acts alleged in the small space available. A solid Southland jury delivered a not guilty verdict 15 minutes after retiring – having taken just long enough to drink their cups of tea.

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say, the world has lost a man with great ability, insight into the human condition, and heart – which was huge and always in the right place.

- Pene Williams, Otago Conservancy Solicitor, Department of Conservation

Dunedin lawyer Michael Ray Radford has been appointed a District Court Judge, Attorney-General Michael Cullen announced today (26 October 2006).

After admission Mr Radford joined Cruickshank Pryde & Hay in Invercargill. Later he became a partner of Gallaway Son & Chettleburgh in Dunedin until he left to practise on his own account in 1980.

He joined Aspinall Joel & Co in Dunedin in 1985 and until very recently (when one of his staff solicitors joined him as partner) his firm (Aspinall Joel Radford Bowler) comprised himself as Principal and seven staff solicitors. Mr Radford has been operating the main office in Dunedin as well as spending half of each week in Timaru.

Since 1972 Mr Radford’s practice has been in litigation, with his personal practice now three quarters litigation, equally divided between civil and criminal. His non-litigation work is mainly trusts and commercial work.

Mr Radford has been a member of the Legal Aid Board and the Otago Legal Aid Committee. He is also a former District Inspector under the Mental Health CAT Act. In the 1980s he served as President of the Otago District Law Society, on the Council of the Otago District Law Society and the NZ Law Society and as a member of the NZ Law Society Ethics Committee.

Mr Radford will be sworn in on 31 October 2006 and will sit in Wellington.

- News Release from Attorney-General Michael Cullen, 26 October 2006.

Judge Radford, Mike, you will be missed by us all.

This tribute was first published in Cur Adv Vult, 22 April 2011.

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Last updated on the 11th May 2012