Judge Richardson always presided magisterially at the Papakura District Court. Like some latter day colossus from the Roman era he cut an imposing figure with his almost bald pate and piercing brown eyes. He made his name in the 1950s as an advocate for the striking dockers and later learnt to speak the language of his clients from the Papakura district of which at least a third were Maori.
Later he was appointed first as a magistrate in the Otahuhu District Court and finally to his judgeship at Papakura where he worked tirelessly till his final illness. He did not suffer fools gladly in the dock where his jovial approach could be described as fair but firm. From time to time, His Honour might appear a shade peaky after a long day on the bench but the piquant sense of humour was always ready to be engaged. On one occasion, I had a client with about ten pages of “form” as he liked to call priors.
The judge quipped “Your record stretches even further than my once pugilistic arms’ length!” This self-reference to his boxing days put him in a better mood. My client had burgled a house and was just leaving when he spotted a good set of gates which he quickly unhinged and loaded onto his trailer. “Gates and all”, muttered His Honour audibly from the bench, but let the light-fingered burglar off with some periodic detention.
Ken Richardson’s sense of humour remained a legend, as his aquiline features became creased in smiles at the slightest provocation. In later years I got to know him quite well and he used to ring our number at home on the odd occasion. Unfortunately, early in 1996, we were being plagued by a telephone stalker who rang at all hours threatening and abusing us. My wife, Yvonne, took a call late one evening after receiving two or three abusive and nonsensical rants from the same person earlier in the week. Picking up the phone, she yelled into the receiver, “You idiot, don’t you ever ring this number again!” to which the rapid reply came booming back:, “Are you sure, that would be a pity, you see it’s Judge Richardson here”.
There were a few more conversations of a much more friendly kind during which we reminded ourselves of that night’s memorable encounter, until I learnt with dismay that the judge had been admitted to Middlemore Hospital and would have to have his leg amputated. A few weeks later, the brave and popular Judge limped into the Papakura District Court on crutches for his final peroration to address a large gathering of family, staff, police and the local bar. He had just turned 68.
Just one week later, he was back in hospital. I called in to see him. “There are complications, my friend,” he told me through his oxygen mask, “things aren’t looking too good”. I was devastated. Within five days, my favourite Judge was dead. I attended his funeral at Parnell Cathedral – where my much-loved Adagio by Albinoni was played at closing. I wept silently for this man of great compassion and integrity who had been my mentor to a large degree and helped to shape the barrister I was to become around the courts of New Zealand.
Colin Amery – Easter 2011