Criminal defence lawyer Denis Kohn, who died on 29 September 2016, will be remembered not for just his legal skills but also for his humour, love of strong coffee and whisky, and song. He was 84.
Denis lived a gregarious life in Gisborne. He was a musician, playing a Fender Stratocaster, and was also a keen surfer during his younger years.
Doug Rishworth, who is a partner in Rishworth, Wall and Mathieson, knew Mr Kohn well, both personally and professionally.
“Before my time, back in the 60s and 70s, he was the senior criminal lawyer in Gisborne and worked on most of the homicides,” he says.
Mr Kohn spoke Te Reo fluently and often spoke it in court.
“He’d use it to great advantage in jury trials and would often address the jury in Maori. It could be quite perplexing for other counsel and the Crown when those jurors that understood Te Reo would be nodding away without anyone else in court understanding what Denis was saying,” says Mr Rishworth.
Denis Kohn was involved in many big cases including a 1980s trial involving Rastafarians, arsons, the kidnapping of a Police detective and murders.
A case Mr Rishworth worked alongside Mr Kohn on involved 18 Mongrel Mob members who were charged with the murder of Black Power gang members in Wairoa.
To this day it is still New Zealand’s biggest-ever murder trial.
“They were each charged with two counts of murder. All 18 were acquitted so there were 36 not guilty verdicts,” he says.
But there was more to Denis Kohn than just being a lawman.
“He was a keen surfer, and owned a sunburst-coloured Fender Stratocaster guitar. He performed at the Savage Club for many years in various stage roles,” says Mr Rishworth.
“He was also keen on deer hunting and fishing, a down to earth man of the people.”
Mr Kohn was always available to his many colourful clients including helicopter pilot, the late Joe Collins.
“Joe was a little infamous and at one point landed his helicopter by spiralling towards the ground near Denis’s Wainui beach property. Much to the bemusement of local residents, Joe described it as a hard landing and he popped in for some legal advice,” he says.
Kohn, Sharkey and Dymond
Denis Kohn had a practice in Wairoa and for a long time was the only criminal lawyer to practise there.
“He had a law firm there called Kohn, Sharkey and Dymond, which Denis often joked was quite an appropriate name for a legal firm,” he says.
Denis Kohn’s father, Wilfred, was a partner in the law firm Wauchop, Kohn and McIntyre which Denis joined after gaining his LLB at the University of Auckland in 1957.
A retired lawyer, Michael Chrisp, who is nearly 89, knew him well.
“He had a great way with people, a personality and probably the mould of the older type of barrister. He grabbed life by the throat and would have been a difficult guy to fall out with,” he says.
Russell Fairbrother QC remembers Mr Kohn as gregarious, a lot of fun and in court, courageous.
“He could talk with judges and mix comfortably in the cells with marginalised defendants. My memory of him was of tireless preparation and a good instinct for the weak point of a Crown case. He had a commanding voice which made him stand out in court,” he says.