Harry Hindenberg: Fixing The Banks Problem

Acclaimed Papakura lawyer Harry Hindenberg proposes a defence for John Banks

If there was ever a time when John Banks needed a good lawyer, now is the time.

I have to feel sorry for Mr Banks, because he’s really done nothing wrong. Electoral laws serve no genuinely useful purpose, and are designed solely to keep bureaucrats in work. And who can even understand what those laws are? I tried to read the opinion piece of a few lawyers and a law professor on the internet regarding the Banks matter, but I kept falling asleep. After a heavy liquid lunch, preceded by an even heavier liquid breakfast, I like to snooze the afternoon away, before whiling away a few hours at the pokies. It doesn’t leave much time for the practice of law, but in my experience preparation is the enemy of the effective lawyer.

I have my own theories on how Mr Banks should handle the mess he’s found himself in, but you won’t find this defence in any fancy law books. I know a bit about how the legal system works, but not because of all the mumbo-jumbo I learned at law school. What a waste of time that period of my life was. I have appeared on numerous occasions before the courts, so I know how to impress a judge and jury, and I know what they like to hear. Perhaps the highlight of my legal career was appearing before the Chief Justice in a high profile fraud case. Thankfully, I was acquitted, though it was a near thing. Just as well they didn’t find the shoebox of documents hidden in the ceiling cavity above my office.

The secret of good advocacy is not to get bogged down in detail. I’m an effective advocate for my clients because I don’t let all the minutiae of a case overwhelm me. Like legislation. And cases. Law professors (or, as I like to call them, “failed lawyers”) sitting in their ivory towers may like to think that the views of stuffy nineteenth century English law-lords are of critical importance to the practice of law, but those of us at the coalface know better. I never read cases, and a cursory glance at the legislation in question in any case is usually enough to give me a feel for the issues at hand. I always just follow my gut (which, if I am honest, is hard to miss, thanks to a steady diet of pies and whisky) rather than what the letter of the law says, and I am rarely let down. Sure, I lose an incredible number of cases, and I have had so many appearances before Law Society disciplinary tribunals that they all know me by my first name, but I always make sure I get paid. That’s the mark of a good lawyer in my books.

So let’s take the John Banks case. My advice to Mr Banks would be to disregard all that legal hocus-pocus his highly paid Queen Street lawyers are feeding him, because fighting the law with the law is just what his opponents would expect. Why would you play the enemy’s game?

I always like to surprise my enemies, in order to put them off-guard. The traditional way these matters work is for a police investigation to be launched, followed perhaps by a criminal prosecution if the evidence appears to show a breach of the law. But the one thing every lawyer knows is you can’t prosecute without evidence.

So if ever there was an occasion where the intimidation and disposal of witnesses was called for, this must be it. Without witnesses Mr Banks’ enemies have no case. It’s simple, really. John Banks, you really should call me.

Luckily for Mr Banks, I happen to know the right people to handle this particular complication. I like to think of myself as a creative problem-solver and a fixer, rather than your traditional sort of lawyer. If that means ethical lines (as well as the Crimes Act) are occasionally blurred or trampled on, then so be it.

Some of the ethical rules we lawyers are held to are ridiculous anyway, like all the rules around what we can do with our trust accounts. When a client gives me a wad of cash for some transaction, like the purchase of a house, I tell them it’s going into my firm’s trust account. When later on they ask where the money went and why their purchase didn’t go through, I have to tell them a few home truths. “It’s called a trust account, dammit, so trust me!”

When that approach doesn’t work I usually tell them they’ll get their money back, but often it requires a bit of juggling with client funds and a few punts. I can’t tell you how many scrapes I’ve narrowly avoided thanks to a good result on the Trentham track.

The trouble with some clients, though, is that you just can’t do anything for them. No matter how much effort you put into their legal affairs, they’ll still complain. I have an example of this for you happening right now, if you will allow me to breach client confidentiality and explain.

So the Singhs seemed like a nice family. They were new to this country and they came to me to help with the purchase of their first home. If only I had know they would try to destroy my legal career!

These folk had the temerity to complain loudly when I failed to register the title of the property in their names, and I instead registered it in the name of a finance company that a mate of mine owns. This mate does good deals, and he and I always look after each other. On this occasion he gave me a good price for the house, which was bloody handy when it came to paying off some very scary people.

Somehow the Singhs have found out about this minor title defect, and they’re now threatening to go to the Law Society if I don’t fix the matter. I tried telling them they’re overreacting and that we have a certain way of doing business in New Zealand, but they won’t listen.

“Look, you know and I know that you own the house,” I said. “What difference does a bit of paper make?”

Mr Singh told me I was an unethical, dishonest scumbag who preyed on the disadvantaged. Me! I tried to put him straight by mentioning all the pro bono legal work I do for the community, but it seems he wasn’t impressed by my efforts on behalf of the Society for the Welfare of Bridgecorp Directors.

It’s lucky that in this particular transaction I acted for seller, buyer and lender, and that I’m pretty good at copying signatures, so I should be able to put things right. My finance company mate will be pissed off, but I have a lot of dirt on him, and if he wants his next P supply he’ll stay silent.

Like Alan Martin used to say, it is the putting right that counts, and if it’s not put right ask for me. I stand behind the results I promise (very far behind, and usually with a number of offshore trusts and nominee companies in between), which is why, Mr Banks, you need to call me. But I’ll require a healthy retainer and sufficient funds to cover miscellaneous expenses. The people I will be hiring don’t generally invoice for their services, so when you come to see me bring cash, lots of it, in unmarked bills, and don’t tell anyone who you’re meeting.