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Former Holmden Horrocks Lawyer appointed as a High Court Judge

Sept. 2019

Former Holmden Horrocks Lawyer appointed as a High Court Judge

Jan-Marie Doogue was recently sworn in as a High Court Judge on 19 August. She is one of a number of Holmden Horrocks lawyers who have sat on the bench. We profile her as well as two other former Holmden Horrocks lawyers below.

Justice Jan-Marie Doogue

The daughter of a commercial lawyer and the niece of a High Court judge, Jan Marie Doogue probably didn't need an education in Agatha Christie or Perry Mason to envision a career in law. She began her legal career in 1980, doggedly pursuing recognition by turning up to work at 7 and staying until 6. Early on in her career, she worked at Holmden Horrocks as a staff solicitor.

She was appointed to a District and Family Court Judge in 1994, later designated as a Family Violence Court judge in 2005 and appointed an alternate Environment Court judge in 2011. In 2011, she was appointed Chief District Court Judge of New Zealand, leading a bench of 160 judges.

Jan was only 35 when the opportunity to be appointed as a District Court judge arose, but says she has only regretted it once in the 23 years since- when a disgruntled litigant threatened her and her family and she had to hire a bodyguard for a period of time.

Jan is a strong advocate for increased diversity in the makeup of the judiciary, working to make the Court and its judges more visible and more accessible.

Justice John Priestley

Justice John Priestley studied law at the University of Auckland, enrolling in 1962. His decision to study law was a breakaway from the allure of his father's dental surgery and was motivated in part by seeing the film "Witness for the Prosecution", as well as the age-old dilemma that ensnares many law school prospects: a high school aptitude for English over Mathematics.

At the conclusion of his Honours degree, John decided to attend the University of Cambridge to pursue further studies. He then went one to take up another scholarship at the University of Virginia's law school, completing a doctorate on matrimonial property.

In the early 1970's, on his return to New Zealand, John joined Holmden Horrocks, where he was soon made partner. Here, he worked primarily in family law and was a driving force in the development of family law in New Zealand, playing a key role in the creation of the Family Law Committee and ultimately becoming a Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society.

John was appointed to the High Court bench in November of 2000. While John confessed that this elevation was "something of a surprise", he took to the job with ease which he attributed to his early legal training and education. Despite John not having previous engagement with the criminal law, his contemporaries such as Baragwanath found him to be a first-rate criminal judge, credited this to John's courage to do what is right in the face of injustice (whilst managing to remain emotionally lucid in the face of the nastier parts of criminal cases).

John retired after 13 years as a judge in the High Court in December of 2013.

Justice Matthew Muir

Justice Matthew Muir arrived at Holmden Horrocks at the age of 20, after finishing his LLB at the University of Auckland in 1979. His motivation to study law was not dissimilar to John Priestley's- an addiction to Perry Mason cultivated at the age of 6.

The partner responsible for employing new graduates and appointing Matthew was none other than John himself, who took Matthew under his wing and became his mentor. Of his time at Holmden Horrocks, Matthew says:

"The work was diverse and stimulating, and John was a patient and kind teacher. We went all over the country, often in the rather grand English motor car which he had acquired from his late father. There were bizarre cases like the one involving 6 lawyers all being remunerated out of the estate arguing over the meaning of a handwritten will, prepared by a testator who wanted to save the then typical $40 fee for a solicitor to prepare one."

(With that anecdote in mind, we feel it prescient to remind all our clients of the importance of testamentary and estate planning).

In 1981, Matthew was admitted to the bar, being duly chuffed with the forty dollar per week pay increase and mantle of Automobile Association Solicitor that immediately followed. The experience of representing upwards of fifteen members of the Automobile Association per day was "the best experience a young litigator could ask for" and by 1983 Matthew considered his teeth well and truly cut on this invaluable court experience.

Following in John's footsteps, in 1984 Matthew took leave from Holmden Horrocks and applied to the University of Virginia to complete his Masters (LLM) - a venture which was (unbeknownst to us) partly funded by Matthew's moonlighting as a bartender.

Matthew became a partner at Holmden Horrocks in 1985, working in civil litigation. He was moved to the independent bar in 1994. He was appointed to Queen's Counsel in 2013 and was appointed to the High Court in 2014.

Justice Susan Thomas

Justice Susan Thomas started her career at Holmden Horrocks after graduation with a BA / LLB (Hons) from Auckland University in 1982, as a Senior Scholar and a recipient of the Auckland District Law Society prize for best undergraduate record. Justice Muir was her early mentor at HoHo, describing her as a "star performer" who, having now been appointed as Chief High Court Judge, is now in charge of telling him what to do (the fantasy of junior solicitors everywhere).

After practising as a solicitor at Holmden Horrocks for a year, she relocated to London, where she was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales and spent almost 10 years as a commercial lawyer in private practice, as in‑house counsel and then as a partner in a London firm.

Returning to New Zealand in 1995, Justice Thomas joined MinterEllisonRuddWatts, becoming a partner shortly afterwards.

In 2005 Justice Thomas was appointed a District Court Judge. Her appointment as a District Court Judge enlightened her as to the myriad of complex and traumatic circumstances and systemic issues that lead to repeat offending. In 2012, she started the Special Circumstances Court in Wellington, to better engage with the community and to assist marginalised offenders who face issues as homelessness, mental health issues, and addiction to break the cycle of offending.

In 2014, Justice Thomas was appointed to the High Court in 2014, sitting for three years in Auckland before relocating to Wellington where she is now based. She is actively involved in efforts to improve access to justice in the criminal courts as well as efforts to improve court processes generally.

In June 2020, Justice Thomas was appointed Chief High Court Judge, (a role overseeing nearly 50 High Court judges) in the middle of the level 4 lockdown of 2020, which she has described as "a baptism of fire", with major adaptions to the court's processes being required. Her wealth of experience in adapting and improving court processes surely came in handy!

Written by Julia Holden, Litigation Junior.
Email: j.holden@holmdenhorrocks.co.nz