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Many roads to the Bench


Four recently appointed magistrates bring to the Bench a wealth of experience in the law, ranging from criminal law, coronial inquests and personal injury to regulatory offences and occupational health and safety matters. They have also made significant legal aid and pro bono contributions.

Nursing a love of the law

Before studying law, magistrate Annabel Hawkins was a jillaroo, a cook and then a nurse for 10 years at Melbourne hospitals.

“I’ve had a go at a lot of different things,” Ms Hawkins, 47, says of her career.

She was a jillaroo for a year near Casterton in Victoria, and later worked as a cook in Scotland and France for a year.

Then, after working as a nurse at the Alfred Hospital and at hospitals around Melbourne, she returned to university to study an arts degree at Monash University.

She subsequently got into law and discovered she loved it.

Continuing to work as a nurse while she studied, Ms Hawkins went on to complete a master of laws in 2001.

“I loved the law degree and then I got articles (at Minter Ellison in 1992) and I loved that,” she said. “Everything I have done with the law I have really enjoyed.”

Ms Hawkins then worked at Victoria Legal Aid, and within the Department of Human Services’ Court Advocacy Unit in child protection cases.

She lived in the US for three years where she was a paralegal in juvenile crime and child protection cases in New York, set up a one-stop shop for child protection in Queens County New York and worked in the legal section of a Boston government department.

On returning to Australia, Ms Hawkins has mainly served as a member on various tribunals – the Migration Review Tribunal, Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Refugee Review Tribunal and the Mental Health Review Tribunal.

She said becoming a magistrate appealed to her because she had a strong commitment to the public service and it was a fascinating job.

“The time was also right for me after my decision-making experience in the tribunals,” she said.

Ms Hawkins, who suffered Hodgkins lymphoma as a 25-year-old and as now recovered from treatment for breast cancer two years ago, has been a community member of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute Ethics Committee, and was on the editorial committee for a newsletter for cancer support groups.

She was also a researcher and writer of the Magistrates’ Court Bench Book – a reference she will now be making use of.

On her weekends, Ms Hawkins retreats to her farm in country Victoria with her two dogs.

Career of the third age

Martin Grinberg views his move to the magistrates’ Bench as a natural progression in what will be the third distinctive phase of his working life.

He has been a barrister for the past 11 years and before that was in the police force where he headed a team in the Major Fraud Squad.

Mr Grinberg, 54, who will be based at Frankston Magistrates’ Court, said his experiences across all these strands of his career would help him as a magistrate.

As a barrister he travelled nine times to South Pacific countries – Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji – on a pro bono basis to conduct advocacy and skills training workshops for prosecutors, defence counsel and lawyers.

He said he had found this work to be “instantly appealing” as he was so well received in these countries and he could see how it was advantaging lawyers who would otherwise not receive such an opportunity.

Mr Grinberg started studying law at the University of Melbourne when he was 38 while working in the police force.

He started studying part-time but managed to finish his law degree in four years.

“It’s amazing how efficient you can be if you don’t spend your evenings watching television,” he said.

After completing articles at the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office, where he was articled to Ron Beazley, Mr Grinberg joined the Bar in 1997.

From November 1998 he assisted James Judd QC at the Longford Royal Commission; the following year he was counsel assisting Anthony Howard QC, and then Michael Tovey QC, at the Metropolitan Ambulance Service Royal Commission.

Born in Poland, Mr Grinberg moved to Australia when he was 10 and grew up in Richmond.

He recalled being a young immigrant to Australia as an exciting time although “had it not been for strong parents and three older brothers, it would have been frightening”.

“It creates a closer family unit to get through it,” he said.

When not working, Mr Grinberg enjoys sailing his boat at Williamstown.

Energy and reform attracts magistrate

After enjoying a collegiate atmosphere at the Bar for the past 20 years, magistrate Bernard FitzGerald was pleased to find a similar experience among his new peers on the Bench.

“There is an absolute vast store of experience and knowledge here (among the magistrates) and without exception they are only too helpful in sharing it,” Mr FitzGerald said.

“They really have been very helpful and completely unstinting with their time, and that’s a striking similarity with the Bar.”

Mr FitzGerald, 50, said he was particularly grateful for such “open door helpfulness” because his new position had involved a steep learning curve.

Not that he expected it would be easy.

“I have always had a healthy regard for how difficult it would be to run a court competently and efficiently,” he said.

Mr FitzGerald completed an arts degree and then a law degree at Melbourne University, graduating in 1983.

He was an articled clerk at Corrs Chambers Westgarth and worked there for another year as a solicitor before joining the Bar in 1986.

As a barrister Mr FitzGerald’s work was particularly varied, involving criminal and civil work, acting for the prosecution and defence, appearing in all court jurisdictions and conducting mediations.

During his career, he also volunteered his legal services to a number of organisations including community legal services.

Mr FitzGerald said he was attracted to the magistracy because it was a progressive, energetic and reform-minded court.

“It appeared to me to be a very forward-looking and vibrant place, largely because of the number of reforms implemented in recent years – such as the introduction of the Koori Court, the Drug Court and the Neighbourhood Justice Centre,” he said.

“It is a long way from the old stereotype of the courts being hidebound, old-fashioned and stuck in their ways.”

When not working, Mr Fitzgerald likes to keep active – when his commitments with three young children allow it.

He cited bushwalking, sailing on Port Phillip Bay and cycling as his three main interests outside of work.

Country calls to new magistrate

For magistrate Jennifer Tregent, becoming a lawyer was a logical career choice as she was following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather.

Ms Tregent’s grandfather was Dudley Tregent – the first known blind person in the Australian colonies to study law.

Blinded by a mortar shell during his service in World War One, Dudley Tregent used Braille to study law, going on to set up Dudley Tregent & Co in 1927 and becoming a respected Melbourne barrister.

Ms Tregent’s father, Brian, and uncle, Noel, subsequently worked at the firm, which was eventually incorporated into Juliano, Furletti & Scott.

Ms Tregent, 42, said she was proud of her family’s legal history.

She studied law at the University of Tasmania after earlier completing an arts degree at Monash University.

Graduating in law in 1988, Ms Tregent took a year off to travel and then completed her articles, and one year as a solicitor, at Stedman Cameron Solicitors in Queen Street, Melbourne.

Since then, Ms Tregent has worked for 16 years as an instructing solicitor at the Office of Public Prosecutions – for the most part on the country circuit.

Ms Tregent said she had stayed on the country circuit because she enjoyed it.

“The people were pretty friendly and easy to get on with in the country and . . . you had a greater variety of work,” she said.

Ms Tregent said she worked on a range of matters including County Court appeals, murder and rape trials, sex and drug matters, and pleas.

Her familiarity with the country circuit should stand her in good stead, as she is due to be placed in a country court for a few years from the start of next year.

Ms Tregent said becoming a magistrate was an opportunity to progress her career yet stay in touch with the day-to-day practice of law.

“Often a promotion means becoming more administrative,” she said.

“I enjoy the hands-on, day-to-day input of dealing with people . . . rather than rounds of meetings and administration.”

Ms Tregent said travelling was her other great interest, with Vietnam and Ireland her two favourite destinations.


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