Brent Porter died on 20 March 2001 at the age of 33 after a long illness. I first met Brent only a few years ago, but as I got to know him I found many things to respect and admire.
Brent was not pushy, loud or aggressive - the characteristics so often perceived by the public today as the hallmarks of a good lawyer.
He did not see being a lawyer simply as the means to make money, or as a way to inflate his own ego; Brent's interest in the law was a much purer one. The concept of justice was very important to him - he saw the law as a true servant of justice. While it is sometimes said that the law can be an ass, to Brent that concept was abhorent - it was not the law that was the ass, but rather the lawyers who sought to misuse it.
Brent's enthusiasm for things legal almost always meant that he keenly pursued efforts to understand the policy behind a particular law. He saw this as the way to ensure that the law was properly applied. Our debates, while often protracted and involved, were always interesting. Not only was Brent intelligent, but he was also tenacious. Invariably, he offered a different perspective, but was always keen to consider and analyse the views of others.
Brent chose to specialise in the field of intellectual property law. It is an area which has an increasing profile, but one which in many ways is antiquated and out of step with modern times. Developments have been rapid in recent years, and Brent was keen to be involved in those developments.
Brent spent much of his formative years growing up in a Pakeha environment. It was later in his life, and with the encouragement and assistance of his wife Jennifer, that he set out to rediscover his Māori roots. This voyage of rediscovery led Brent to see a need for Māori values to be recognised and accommodated in intellectual property law developments, and in no area more so than in the recognition of cultural property rights issues. He had a deep rooted passion for looking at the ramifications of intellectual property law on Māori cultural values, and how and where the meshed and where they came into conflict.
Brent was involved in giving advice to Government on the implications for Māori of existing, and proposed, changes to intellectual property law. One example was his membership of the Ministry of Commerce's Māori Focus Group on Intellectual Property, and his initial involvement in drafting a discussion paper on the patenting of life forms.
More recently, Brent's fervent involvement in seeking to register the Ka Mate haka as a trade mark for the tribal interests generally regarded as owning it has led to increasing public awareness and debate over the fit between modern commercial interests, intellectual property rights, and indigenous cultural property rights.
It was this area, the interface between Māori and intellectual property jurisprudence, in which Brent had a particularly bright future. He was unique in his understanding of both sides of the issues and the debate. In my view, this, coupled with his other personal qualities, meant that Brent had the capacity to become a real leader in this area. I am hopeful, as I know Brent was, that his efforts will be built on to ensure that the issues which concerned Brent are properly and sensitively addressed.
Brent leaves many friends and family behind. He leaves his father, his brother and sisters and his step daughters Ema and Bryna, all of whom will feel a great sense of loss at his death. Brent also leaves his wife Jennifer. Jennifer has been an unfaltering support and influence in Brent's life. She supported his career throughout, and she helped him develop an appreciation of his Māori heritage. Brent was a better and more fulfilled person for knowing Jennifer and I have no doubt that Jennifer is a better and more fulfilled person because of Brent.
Brent's tenaciousness came to the fore during his long illness. He fought hard against it and did not give in to it, even at the end. Brent was afraid of dying alone and he didn't. Jennifer was with him.
Brent was much more than a quiet gentleman. He was a person who could be utterly relied upon. He had a core set of values that he adhered to no matter what buffeted his life. He was a man of great dignity. We should celebrate his life and his achievements as he would want us to do, but the inescapable truth is that he will leave a tremendous void for those who were fortunate enough to know him.
This was first published on page 4 of the May 2001 issue of Council Brief, the monthly newsletter of the Wellington District Law Society.