A supreme court judge under investigation for not fully declaring a conflict of interest has been accused by another judge of making up a story to avoid disclosing his true financial debt to a top lawyer.
The accusation against Justice Bill Wilson, who sits in New Zealand's highest court, was made by distinguished retired judge Sir Edmund "Ted" Thomas in a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, Sir David Gascoigne.
Sir Edmund claimed Justice Wilson made up a "fictitious" story which Sir Edmund believed indicated Justice Wilson wanted to continue to withhold his true financial position from the Supreme Court.
Justice Wilson is at the centre of a mounting controversy about his repeated failures to fully disclose that he owed $242,000 to Alan Galbraith, QC, when he sat on Court of Appeal cases involving Mr Galbraith.
The judge is being investigated by Sir David after a group of woolgrowers complained alleging apparent bias.
Sir Edmund, in a second, separate complaint to the judicial conduct commissioner, says that he and some of the country's most senior barristers despair of Justice Wilson's refusal to resign.
The controversy arose because Justice Wilson, on at least four occasions, failed to fully disclose to either Sir David or the Supreme Court that he was deeply in debt to Mr Galbraith.
The investigation into Justice Wilson centres on a long-running dispute between woolgrowers seeking $8 million in compulsory levies paid to the former Wool Board, represented by Mr Galbraith. The growers won in the High Court, but lost in the Court of Appeal in a decision including Justice Wilson.
The growers later went to the Supreme Court alleging apparent bias against Justice Wilson. The court dismissed the growers' complaint but at paragraph 25 of the judgment, Justice Blanchard effectively said the case might have turned out differently had there been evidence of Justice Wilson being beholden to Mr Galbraith by owing him money.
"However, the materials placed before the court reveal nothing of the kind. There is nothing to indicate any indebtedness," Justice Blanchard said.
Sir Edmund's complaint alleged Mr Galbraith said he phoned Justice Wilson after the hearing and was "astonished" to hear Justice Wilson say he was vindicated.
Sir Edmund claimed Justice Blanchard's comments caused "considerable consternation" and Justice Wilson also told Mr Galbraith he had approached Justice Blanchard about paragraph 25 and was told the comments were only intended to apply to "on demand" debts.
"This advice was met with disbelief," Sir Edmund's complaint alleged.
"This story is fictitious. No such conversation with Justice Blanchard took place," Sir Edmund told Sir David. He considered it "highly improbable" that Mr Galbraith would make such a story up.
Sir Edmund believed the claimed conversation with Justice Blanchard indicated that Justice Wilson remained intent on continuing to withhold financial information about a debt he knew of, knowing that the Supreme Court regarded evidence of any significant debt to Mr Galbraith as "critical" to its decision to dismiss the growers' complaint of apparent bias.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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