Helpful lawyer backed after client turns ugly

Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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When a longstanding client asked Keith Jefferies to represent him on a case in Tauranga, the Wellington lawyer took the job and paid his own travel costs.

And when Abraham Eparaima Kohai ran out of money part way through his trial, Mr Jefferies stood him dinner and paid the motel bill for a couple of nights. At his trial, Kohai - who killed a man in Wellington in 1989 - was acquitted of five child sex charges but convicted of nine others. He then accused Mr Jefferies of incompetence.

The Court of Appeal has now sided with the lawyer, saying he had "a difficult brief" and had done his best in "trying circumstances".

The court also dismissed Kohai's appeal against his convictions and rejected another unrelated ground of appeal.

Kohai, known as Rabbit, was sentenced to 17 years in jail for sexual assaults on three girls under the age of 12.

The three appeal judges said they preferred Mr Jefferies' evidence.

Kohai retracted some of his claims and admitted others were false, including that Mr Jefferies did not meet him to discuss his defence until the day before the trial started.

The court said it was notable that, when Kohai was arrested, he was living in the central North Island, and Mr Jefferies lived and worked in Wellington. The lawyer had represented Kohai in previous cases. "At his own expense, Mr Jefferies travelled from Wellington to Tauranga at least five times to represent Kohai at status and pre-trial hearings in this proceeding.

"He also funded Kohai's accommodation expenses on occasions during the trial."

Speaking after the Court of Appeal's decision was issued, Mr Jefferies said he was not complaining about the expenses he met. Legal aid paid a fee for appearing at the trial but not the travel and associated expenses, so Mr Jefferies ended up paying at least $3000 on travel and accommodation while representing Kohai.

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- The Dominion Post

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