Whangarei barrister Kelly Ellis talks with NZ Lawyer about an unusual case involving a dancing hobbit, and her previous career as a reporter.
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
Having worked part of my misspent youth as a reporter on the Taihape Times, I used to enjoy the high stakes drama of the court room. While I certainly enjoy writing, I didn't want to be reporting on interesting things, I wanted to be part of them. After a few years having fun working as a journalist, law seemed the best use of my skills.
How long have you worked in Whangarei for and what brought you to this position?
I've been in Whangarei nearly four years, having moved from Auckland. The Far North always held an allure for a wind-swept Wellingtonian like me. When I got my long-dreamed of black Honda 750 as a teenager, the first thing I did with it was head North. I guess I've been doing that for the last 40 years. By retirement age I hope to be at Minerva Reef.
What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
I suspect one of the funniest was one where a genuine "Dancing Hobbit" credited from the Lord of the Rings went out, in his own words, for a night of drinking and fighting in downtown Hamilton. By 5am, bleeding from a head wound, he tried to buy a drink from the last and indeed roughest place in town.
In the poor light he was mistaken for another very short man with a very similar name. He was pointed out to a dominatrix to whom the other man owed money. Before he knew what was happening, he was rumbling down the wrong side of the river in an old V8. When he assured he owed Mistress Jo nothing, he was told "that's what they all say."
He was taken to her dungeon, complete with bondage cross, all manner of whips and canes, a gasmask, dildos and a thick laminated door in the floor down into the sensory deprivation hole. Eventually he did agree that he owed Mistress Jo and paid her the money.
He called the Police and they were all charged with injuring, kidnapping and robbing the hobbit. They were discharged on the robbery charge because, after all, it was an honest and understandable mistake given the similar names, appearances and presence at this bar, the poor lighting and late hour. They were convicted of kidnapping and injuring the hobbit.
Years later I saw him sitting forlornly outside the Court. A night of carousing had again had an unfortunate sequel after one of his downtown sparring sessions had been seen by police. He mentioned the dominatrix trial and I tried to suppress a grin. He laughed and said it made a great story to tell his grandkids.
If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Helen Clark for her depth of knowledge of New Zealand and world affairs, Mahatma Gandhi to help me with advice on humility and Leonardo de Vinci in the hope that he might draw on a napkin.
Where’s the best place to go in Whangarei for a drink and/or dinner after work?
Bank Street Social Club, 69 Bank Street
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
Don't antagonise, neutralise.
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
Although I do like a bit of quiet time, I'm reasonably active in local politics, having run in the last election for Labour in Whangarei. I do a bit of pro bono work for the transgender community as well which can be surprisingly time-consuming. I love to cook, I write a regular column for The Daily Blog, I muck about with old yachts, fiddle with old classic BMW racing motorbikes, hot up old Mazda MX5s, spend time with my wife, our two boys (who've left home) and the three furbabies - two cats and a puppy they hate.
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in New Zealand in 2015?
I'm very concerned about the lack of new entrants into criminal defence bar. Not so many years ago most chambers had juniors who got valuable mentoring by working alongside more experience lawyers. There seemed to be a clear career pathway. Now there doesn't seem to be. Times are too tough for most new entrants to survive at the Bar. The average age here in Whangarei would be well North of 50. Without new entrants, the average will be over 70 in 20 years.
If you had John Key’s job for one day, what would you do?
Put the sending of troops in Iraq to Parliamentary vote. I'd also take immediate steps to ensure that the women and children of Northland who are under siege from male sexual violence knew their concerns were taken seriously. These cases are so prevalent up here that something needs to be done. Someone in John Key's position is able to initiate that change.
What do you love about your job?
My colleagues and time in court.
What would you change about your job right now if you could?
I'd change the Legal Aid regime in a way which would make survival likely for new entrants to the criminal defence bar.