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Welcome Judge Richard Smith


Cite as: December 2011 85(12) LIJ, p. 30

Judge Richard Smith was welcomed to the County Court of Victoria on 10 August. Among the speakers was LIV president Caroline Counsel. This is an edited version of her speech.

I appear on behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state to congratulate your Honour on your appointment to this Court.

As a schoolboy at Scotch College you were the third generation in your family to cox the Scotch College first eight. Your 1966 and 1967 crews won the Head of the River. 1967 was a good year for your Honour. You and your crew won the Head of the River. Richmond won the premiership. And you matriculated with honours in economics and general mathematics, and got into law at Monash.

At Monash, you played football with the Monash Reds. Peter McCracken (now a solicitor with Cuthberts in Ballarat) was playing for South Melbourne. He was at Monash and, in one game in about 1972, joined the Monash Reds for the first half of the game by way of warm-up. He kicked eight goals, before heading off.

Your Honour did not do quite so well. Recalling the glory of the Tigers’ 1967 premiership, you sought to emulate Billy Barrot – the long raking drop-kicks for which he was famous.

Your Honour’s efforts were so conspicuously unsuccessful that the coach (David Pannifex, who is now at the Bar) told you: “One more drop-kick and you’re off the ground”.

Your Honour’s passion for thoroughbred horse racing has deep roots. Your father and grandfather were each VRC committee members. In your articles year at Lander & Rogers, the office football-tipping kitty benefited from investments based on a punting system in which you and Peter Atkinson identified horses that were “an absolute certainty” for a place. Alas, late in the racing season, one of the “absolute certainties” placed stone-cold last.

Your Honour’s practice at the Bar was built on the sure foundation of eight years practice as a solicitor at Cameron & Lowenstern in Hamilton – six years as a partner.

In the world of country solicitors doing their own appearance work, there is a range of abilities. Your Honour was a formidable advocate, known for your sure instinct for what was true or untrue – what country folk frankly call “a good nose for bull-dust”.

Even in an equal partnership, some partners are more equal than others and, in controversial discussions, not everyone says what they really think. From your earliest days as a partner, you were always utterly, and disarmingly, frank – no one was ever in doubt as to your views.

At one stage of the drawn-out discussions for the merger of Cameron & Lowenstern with Hull Newns & Co. the late Brian Newns identified one advantage as his being freed for weightier work by your Honour taking his Magistrates’ Court appearance work. Your Honour immediately made it clear you were not in the business of taking others’ cast-off work.

The president-elect of the LIV, Michael Holcroft, is in Canada for a conference. He has asked me to pass on his congratulations.

Michael was an articled clerk of all of three months’ standing when he acted as your instructor in a medical negligence case. The plaintiff had suffered a frozen shoulder in a bus “heavy braking” incident. She wanted her arm amputated. Five surgeons refused. Your client defendant surgeon did it – amputating the arm at the elbow.

It seemed to Michael reasonable that the client-defendant surgeon should be called to explain why.

With the most serious misgivings, your Honour backed the judgment of your young, articled clerk instructor.

You called the surgeon. He explained; and also said how happy the plaintiff had been with the amputation.

Remorse set in as soon as the jury retired. You were castigating yourself. There were probably only seven people in court who thought the decision to call the surgeon was right. However, your judgment had been impeccable. In addition to your instructing articled clerk, the six others who approved it were the six jurors who returned the verdict of “no negligence”.

Your instructing solicitors are unanimous in praising your easy engagement and great rapport with clients, as well as with jurors; your easy conversational style of cross- examination (and its devastating effect); and the evident respect of the judges before whom your Honour appeared to argue their client’s cases.

Your Honour brings to the Court substantial experience as a solicitor, law firm partner, barrister and silk, a true moral compass and intuition in getting to the truth.

It is my pleasure, on behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, to wish your Honour joy in your appointment and long, satisfying and distinguished service as a judge of this Court.


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