Love of law and the good life loomed large in King

23:08, Nov 13 2012
Greg King
Greg King

Greg King was a large man, tall with big dark eyes. The courtroom has not been made that his voice could not fill.

He rejected and resented the suggestion that his jury addresses were theatrical or an act. They were just him. Confident, quick-witted, eloquent, sometimes intense, and often successful.

Mr King would have been remarkable for his criminal defence work alone but racing alongside were many and varied enthusiasms and passions.

Mechanical things fascinated him - from the hundreds of watches in his collection to the planes and boats he admired and the cars that he acquired.

A succession of Holdens and later Mercedes bore his numberplate LEXREX (law king, or sometimes said to mean law is king).

An accomplished shopper, there was usually a story behind the things he bought. He was recently sporting a luxuriously soft overcoat he said he found in a secondhand store for under $100. But the sleeve of his bargain buy covered a treasure from his watch collection, usually a Rolex Daytona - a model made famous by actor Paul Newman - a Christmas present from his wife Catherine Milnes-King and close friend, jewellery store owner Grant Partridge.


It was one of a few Rolexes Mr King owned but his most prized was a precious Patek Philippe. There were also many from antique shops and secondhand stores, some that he liked to tinker with to see how they worked.

Described as "impulsive and compulsive", his passion for Trade Me was bettered only by his love of his family and dearest friends.

His public profile was cemented in 2005 when he worked on a couple of episodes of the television series What's Your Verdict, in which a group second-guessed jury verdicts in controversial cases. His involvement was limited, though, when the Gibson Group that made the programme found he could not front other cases it wanted to feature because he had been involved in so many of them.

Later he earned an executive producer credit for putting up the bare bones of what became The Court Report, a well-regarded legal issues programme he hosted nearly 70 times before the plug was pulled on TVNZ7, where it screened.

He was said to be a natural for television with charisma, the "gift of the gab", and the presentation skills that made him such a force in court. The show attracted impressive commentators and experts.

He could never be accused of being a fitness freak but he was a sports fan, loving rugby, cricket, and netball. Rugby league had a special pull and he was drawn into supporting, sponsoring, then helping lead the Wainuiomata Lions Rugby League Club.

Boxing was a favourite he shared with neighbour and friend Sir Bob Jones.

Court staff found him easy to deal with, not throwing his weight around as some lawyers do.

In the midst of the Scott Guy trial he took time during a tea break to talk to a former court staff member who had borrowed from him a gown and dress shirt for his admission to the bar. Along with his best wishes Mr King gave him a set of cufflinks, on one hand "guilty", "not guilty" on the other.

Not generally domesticated, he made a specialty out of over-catering for friends, whether it be on the barbecue or with the glazed ham on the bone he loved.

He did everything enthusiastically, eating cheap and cheerful dinners at restaurants in the Hutt Valley where he lived. In past years he would frequent one restaurant exclusively for a few months before moving to a new favourite.

Art was an indulgence for Mr King and his wife, and works by Ralph Hotere, Nigel Brown, and Pat Hanly were among the many at home. In his office hung a self-portrait by a famous killer.

His prodigious memory and powers of concentration were not only for work. He knew a bit, and sometimes a lot, about so many topics that any conversation could easily wander.

He was a great negotiator, and skilled at getting people on his side, as his acquitted clients could attest.

Mr King seemed as comfortable arguing the facts in front of a jury as he was arguing a technical point in front of judges. A colleague described him as a law-maker, a lawyer whose arguments helped develop the law.

This year he went to the United States on a prestigious Eisenhower Fellowship. The trip was mostly justice focused. He returned home with a photograph of himself standing beside the fellowship's chairman of trustees, former US Secretary of State General Colin Powell.

He also had a proposal for a "management court", a collaborative problem-solving court for those needing intensive and individually tailored rehabilitation.

Coming to Wellington after three years honing his skills with Dunedin-based QC Judith Ablett-Kerr, Mr King went from doing sensational trials with her - such as the case of microbiologist Dr Vicky Calder, who was acquitted of poisoning her former partner - to building his own practice in Lower Hutt.

Four years later Catherine Milnes-King, qualified as an accountant and a lawyer, joined him in the practice.

From chambers she tailored for the purpose he, she, and sometimes a junior lawyer - most recently Liam Collins - had a busy practice.

On the hills above the Hutt Valley they lived with their two daughters Pippa, 5, and Millie, 4. The couple had several cats, a dog, and chickens that sometimes strayed into the house. His parents Jennifer and Jeffrey lived next door after moving from Turangi.

From a modest start he had flourished at school and after being head prefect at Tongariro High School, he spent most of the following year in Brisbane as a host at New Zealand's World Expo Pavilion. Even then he was an over-achiever. He mixed with members of the public, world leaders, entertainment and sporting stars, and after-hours took flying lessons that progressed to flying solo.

Even when frantically busy, he rarely seemed flustered and appeared able to compartmentalise work from play.

For years Mr King had over-indulged in defiance of warnings that he was in line to develop diabetes. Just before Christmas last year he stalled the doctors one last time to finish work before submitting to the tests that confirmed the diagnosis and the nerve damage that had already been done.

Fairfax Media