Could you make it from Auckland Central to Manukau in under an hour just before 5pm?

That was the challenge faced by a lawyer who was told she had to get to Manukau District Court by 5pm or face the possibility of fines or jail.

Olinda Woodroffe got the email at 4.05pm on Tuesday. Outside, traffic was building.

Judge David McNaughton had instructed court staff to summon Woodroffe, and the email read: "You need to be in court today by 5pm ... if you are not you will be in contempt of court."

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What followed was a painfully slow crawl along the Southern Motorway with Woodroffe not knowing whether she would make it on time.

The drama unfolded following a hearing at the Manukau District Court on Tuesday during which Woodroffe attempted to postpone a case in which she was involved because of a clash with another case in the Supreme Court in Samoa.

A ruling from McNaughton shows he rebuffed efforts to have the case delayed and told Woodroffe she would have to make a decision.

It is common ground between Woodroffe and the court that a decision needed to be made by 3.30pm, although there was disagreement over whether she needed to appear in person.

However, the judge's minute from later in the day shows he insisted on her appearance after receiving the update from Woodroffe.

"Through the registry I directed that counsel appear at 5pm and that if she failed to appear that would be contempt in the face of the court," he stated.

Contempt of court is a charge designed to help maintain public confidence in the justice system and can be levelled against anyone ignoring an order of the court. It can lead to fines - or prison.

At that point, Woodroffe was sitting in her office in Upper Queen St when the emails started to arrive.

First she was told: "Judge has said you will be in contempt of court if you are in court by 5pm today." That was at 4.01pm.

It took four minutes for the court worker to realise she had missed out "not", when the second email was sent saying if she did not appear by 5pm "you will be in contempt of court".

It left 55 minutes to get out of the office, into the car and on the road to court.

"I was terrified," said Woodroffe. Too rattled to drive herself, she had husband and law partner Colin take the wheel as she directed office staff to tell the court she was on her way.

At 4.44pm, an email assured the court she was trying her best but was "currently stuck in traffic on the motorway".

Then at 4.58pm, her office told the court "Mrs Woodroffe is presently on the motorway in Mt Wellington".

"She is stuck in traffic but she is doing her best to arrive to the Court as soon as possible."

Ten minutes later: "Mrs Woodroffe is still in transit to the District Court. However, she would like to know how she may enter the District Court, as presumably the doors will be locked upon closing time."

It ended well - or, at least, Woodroffe wasn't found in contempt.

McNaughton's minute shows he appointed a lawyer to assist her client in the Manukau District Court trial, leaving her free to attend the Supreme Court hearing.

It's a finding Woodroffe disputed, as it left her client without a lawyer who could speak Samoan - or a lawyer of his choosing.

"Why did he make me rush all that way to Manukau to see him face-to-face?" Woodroffe asked. "It was a threat that got me quite upset and really worried.

"Anybody with common sense knows if you come from the middle of the city to Manukau at that time, you're not going to get there."

She said she visited a doctor the next day, having been unable to sleep and burdened by stress brought on by the incident.

A medical certificate from the Remuera doctor stated: "Olinda has come to see me today as she is feeling under huge stress. This seems to relate to pressures from a judge in Auckland.

"She is finding his demands and expectations of her to be unrealistic, and fail to consider other workloads that she is dealing with - particularly a court case in Samoa that she must also attend."

The doctor found she was "able to carry on" but said he was "concerned that anyone should be subject to such stresses".

Woodroffe said she planned on making a complaint to the Judicial Conduct
Commissioner, a body able to rule on judge's behaviour but not their legal findings.

The AA's expert on Auckland transport Barney Irvine initially said "you'd be nudging it" to get from Auckland central to Manukau in under an hour. "I certainly wouldn't guarantee it."

But then he checked the data for that week and found it was a 27 minute journey from the motorway on-ramp to the off-ramp.

Taking into account the time getting to the on-ramp, and off at the other end, he believed it was possible to do the journey in under 50 minutes.

Judges are prohibited from commenting on court proceedings, although the district court was asked if it would do so for this story.