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Welcome Justice Mordecai Bromberg

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Cite as: March 2010 85(3) LIJ, p.27

Justice Mordecai Bromberg was welcomed to the Federal Court on 8 December 2009. Among the speakers was then LIV president-elect Steven Stevens. This is an edited version of his speech.

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

Even while a student, your Honour had sound instincts and exhibited great judgment in industrial relations.

A person who shall remain nameless from “management” at the St Kilda Football Club, when you were a player there, met quietly and alone with various players. Seemingly casually, he asked about reported discontent with the coach.

“Please be frank – this is not a witch-hunt, but I need to know what you think, so I can work behind the scenes to make things better. Be assured that what you say will be held in strictest confidence. The coach will never know what was said.”

Some players opened up. Your Honour had the good sense to say not a word.

The very next Tuesday at training, the coach taunted the players with verbatim quotations of what had been said about him.

The players who had spoken were subjected to “training” involving significant pain.

Your Honour was articled to Jonathon Rothfield at Slater & Gordon. You also worked closely with two other partners, Geoff Jones and Michael Higgins.

The late Geoff Jones was the elder statesman of the firm – an old-time generalist who did some industrial work. The late Michael Higgins also had a wide practice and later became a highly respected judge of the County Court.

Your Honour spent as much time with each of them as you did with your principal – perhaps more. Effectively, you had three principals in articles.

After admission in 1984, you joined Baker & McKenzie – then reputedly the largest law firm in the world. You practised in Melbourne and Sydney in commercial litigation.

After a year at Baker & McKenzie followed by a year with Justice Gray, you went off travelling.

When your Honour is being cautious about not appearing frivolous or flighty – even as a young man – you describe this as, and I quote, “combin[ing] overseas travel with work as a solicitor in the London and Hong Kong offices of Baker & McKenzie”.

In fact, you had a good time travelling around the world for two years.

You went up through Asia. You’d been a summer clerk with Baker & McKenzie in Hong Kong, and “dropped in” to say hello. Fortuitously, they had more work than people so you worked three or four months before continuing your travel.

Your Honour saw how far remuneration at the Baker & McKenzie level went in youthful travel – positively transformative.

When you got to London, you decided to “drop in” to the London office. Once again, you were in luck. You were able to do a couple of bursts there in between travelling.

You were even able to marry in London before returning to begin at the Victorian Bar.

So ended your Honour’s years as a solicitor.

However, your training and experience in those years were a sure foundation for your work at the Bar – and your success and empathy in working with your instructing solicitors.

In Patricks v Maritime Union of Australia, coming away from the hearing before Justice North, your instructing solicitor describes himself and the others in “the B team” as being “rattled”. Your Honour alone, he says, remained optimistic.

When you returned to hear judgment, the whole team was keyed up.

Justice North read his reasons for judgment. As they unfolded, it became apparent that you’d been successful.

Your instructor became, as he describes it, “quite emotional”. He had the advantage of having his back to the judge.

Your instructor’s “emotional state” communicated itself to your Honour. Your Honour began to waver – then your calm under fire asserted itself. Your Honour, facing the judge, remained entirely composed.

At your Honour’s 50th birthday party, your wife Nicky raised more than a few eyebrows when she spoke of your mistress.

Until, that is, it became evident that you kept your “mistress” in the shed – and she was your mountain-bike!

Your Honour grows grapes at Vaughan Springs. It is rocky, granite country. You’ve had to use nets to minimise depredations by the birds. You’ve had trouble with kangaroos. You contend with frost. For about 10 years, you have persisted.

Your winemaker is Llew Grant of Granite Hills. You are one of the first to produce shiraz in the finer cool-climate style.

Solicitors say you have been a pleasure to work with. You are committed to understanding the minutiae. You are unflappable – and also personable.

On behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, I wish your Honour long, distinguished and satisfying service as a judge of this Court.

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