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Welcome for Judge David Purcell, County Court of Victoria

Welcome for Judge David Purcell, County Court of Victoria

By LIV Media


May it please the Court.

I appear on behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria and the solicitors of this state to acknowledge and celebrate Your Honour’s appointment as a Judge of this Court.

I recognise that we meet on unceded Wurindjeri land of the Kulin nation, and also acknowledge the Gunditjmara people, traditional owners of the land in Victoria’s south-west on which Your Honour grew up and was educated, and pay my respects to the Elders of these groups, past, present and emerging, and to Aboriginal and TSI people here today.

Like Mr Mighell QC, I also warmly nod to Your Honour’s family and friends in the Jury box.

It is a great pleasure to the solicitors’ branch of the profession and for all of us to witness a hardworking and able lawyer – whose origins lie in practice as a solicitor in country Victoria – ascend to the Bench.

Your Honour honed your legal skills in Warrnambool, where you were born and raised. You practiced law there for a decade before the Bar called.

Your late father, Joe, an accountant, hailed from Collingwood but was enticed to Warrnambool as part of a push to upskill local professions. Your mother Imelda was raised on a farm in that glorious region and, after raising two children, she trained as a social worker and worked for some years in mental health services at local hospitals.

As a young tike, Your Honour went to Jamieson Street Primary School, and then on to secondary school at Warrnambool High, completing Year 12 in 1985.

Your Honour took something of a circuitous path through University, not certain as an 18 year old quite where life would lead, but emerged after much study, including summer school to get through the Priestley 11, with degrees in Arts and Law, and life experience garnered through working part-time stacking shelves and doing night-fill work at supermarkets.

While a law student, you undertook a summer clerkship at Mackay Taylor in Warrnambool, where your friend Andrew Keogh, now Justice Keogh of the Supreme Court, worked.

On graduating, Your Honour was not entirely sure what to do with your law degree – until you were collared by local solicitor Grenville Skewes, after having made what must have been one of your typically witty speeches at a friend’s wedding in Warrnambool.

Grenville was a conveyancer at Maddens. He offered and you accepted articles there, commencing in 1992.

A common lawyer at heart from the first, you found yourself spending more time with John Madden, the litigation partner, and cutting your teeth on plaintiff personal injuries work.

At the same time, Your Honour was exposed to the wide range of country legal practice: aside from conveyancing and personal injuries, you engaged in such legal work as general litigation, criminal appearance work in the Magistrates’ Court, including as Duty Lawyer, and drawing Wills in the lunchrooms of various factories visited by the firm.

It was apparent from very early in your legal career that Your Honour was destined to practice in personal injury law for injured people, across workers compensation and damages claims, TAC matters, public liability and, more rarely, medical negligence. You had found your calling.

Former colleagues from those days say they saw in you a very smart, hard-working but practical professional, a highly skilled practitioner who clearly understood his clients’ needs, and who endeavoured always to achieve the best for them and most often did.

By 1997, and just five years out of law school, Your Honour was given some very decent offers to join other firms.

Justice Keogh was leaving Mackay Taylor to join the Bar, and asked if you wanted to take over his position there.

At the same time, Gary Clark, then of the Portland-based Stringer Clark, figured you were either a pest as a rival, or a potentially brilliant person to work with and then take over the firm as he moved on. He made you an offer too good to refuse.

You and Richard Morrow eventually acquired Stringer Clark, and there was a period of around 18 months when the three of you worked together.

Gary Clark told us you were always insightful, endlessly on-the-go and enthusiastic.

You were, says Gary, “always a good driver in heavy traffic”, steering an incredibly busy and ever-growing practice at the Warrnambool office.

Stringer Clark was without question the best “pound for pound” injuries practice in Victoria while Your Honour was there, and by far the busiest outside the city for personal injury matters.

Work at both Maddens and Stringers in the 90s and early 2000s saw Your Honour brief Ron Meldrum QC in his pomp, leading Tim Tobin, on the Warrnambool circuit. You frequently found yourself opposed to Ross Middleton and Paul Jens before either took silk.

Other counsel of excellence were also briefed. Your Honour loved working closely with counsel as a solicitor, and was sponge-like in learning from admired barristers, Judge Jordan SC and Judge Kathy Bourke, along with Justices Keogh and Kellam, among many others in that category far too numerous to mention.

Mr Middleton QC relates the tale of preparing a case on circuit at Warrnambool on a Thursday night, a telecast of a Carlton v Richmond game on in the background. At an ad break, he heard a familiar voice, turning to see Your Honour standing in front of an impressive array of law books, spruiking the virtues of your firm, and ending the ad with the tag-line, “Quality service, close to home”.

While Mr Middleton may have teased Your Honour over the years about that line, it speaks of Your Honour’s devotion to the notion that justice should be made accessible to people, notwithstanding their remoteness from William St. A commitment to accessible justice is an inherent aspect of no-win no-fee work as a solicitor, funding the cases of people who would otherwise be denied their day in Court, as Your Honour did while in the Stringer Clark partnership. While at the Bar Your Honour continued to work for folk who could never afford to pay your fee absent a successful outcome in the case.

Mr Mighell made mention of Your Honour’s chairmanship of Lennon’s List. As a solicitor, Your Honour was no less active in leadership roles and engagement in professional associations.

Accredited as a specialist personal injury lawyer by the Law Institute as soon as the rules permitted Your Honour to sit the exam, you subsequently served on the Personal Injury Specialisation Committee for many years, setting and grading exams for candidates. Likewise, you were an active member of APLA, now the Australian Lawyers’ Alliance, as a solicitor, and, in turn, as counsel. Locally, Your Honour served as secretary of the Western District Law Association for a time.

By 2003, Your Honour decided it was time to move on, and you joined the Bar, as Mr Mighell has recounted.

John Constable having given up the plaintiffs’ briefs at the Bendigo circuit after many years of great service, the local practitioners with most of the work there scratched their heads as they thought of a replacement. Your Honour, as such a highly regarded solicitor, if of recent call to the Bar, loomed as an obvious choice.

Your Honour gave more than a decade of service to Bendigo circuit work. “Quality service, close to home” was provided to the citizens of that fair city. As Your Honour’s reputation at the Bar grew, circuit work at Geelong, Mildura, and even Warrnambool followed in its wake. After taking silk, Ballarat was added to the list of places regularly the beneficiaries of Your Honour’s quality service.

Much has been made, and rightly so, of Your Honour’s extraordinary verbal adroitness. Solicitors, barristers, readers and friends – and Mr Mighell - have all referred to Your Honour’s delightfully dry sense of humour and smacking-quick wit, qualities that make you a much-sought speaker.

But it isn’t all Ciceronian.

Once, Your Honour had occasion to confer with a client at Bendigo, a fellow well known for finding it difficult to utter a sentence – at times even a word – without the interpolation of one of his wide array of gross profanities. When your instructor asked how the conference had gone, Your Honour replied with something like

Well, I had a swearing competition with Mr X, and I think I held up my end pretty well.

On the strength of that, should the Chief Judge ever decide to conduct a swearing competition among the Judges, Your Honour will start a very short-priced favourite.

A common theme emerging among those to whom we spoke was Your Honour’s remarkable capacity to quickly cut to the essence of a case, stating it with concision and brevity. So, too, was your work ethic.

Justice Keogh says you are very much a country boy at heart. He also says that your secret talent is a cracking rendition of Michael Jackson’s ‘moonwalk’. Here I must again invoke Cicero, who said “no man ever dances when sober, unless perhaps he be a madman.”

Justice Keogh proposed that a moonwalk from Your Honour would be a most appropriate addition to the next big County Court function … the Chief Judge will rule on that.

The Chief Judge of this Court through all Your Honour’s time as a solicitor but barely any as counsel, and who died last year, was Glenn Waldron. Delivering a eulogy at the funeral of his friend, Bernard Shillito, himself a Judge of this Court for 29 years, then-retired Judge Waldron rhetorically asked

So what is required to make a good Judge?,

answering himself,

I would suggest the following: integrity; industry; wisdom; rationality; calmness; tolerance; a highly developed sense of fairness and impartiality; good common sense; a reasonable measure of compassion for the less fortunate; and the courage to make the right decision, even though it may not be a generally popular one.

These are qualities, Your Honour, that clients and colleagues saw you exhibit as a country solicitor, and at the Bar, both as a junior and as silk.

On behalf of the solicitors of Victoria, we wish Your Honour a long, enjoyable and fulfilling career as a judge.

May it please the Court.

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