David Bates takes a break from his laptop where he's working to defend a teenager on an assault charge, to read from a children's picture book.
He crosses his legs, readjusts his reading glasses, and his usually soft voice raises in pitch:
"Maestro McNibble, most mischievous mouse, lived next door to the cheesemaker's house. Old cheesemaker Charlie lived there with his cat who was big and mean, and was named Rat-a-tat ..."
The words flow easily because he's reading his own writing. When he's not in court or working from his stylish Tauriko home with rural views, he's forging out a side-gig as an author.
Bates is a criminal barrister, former police inspector and legal adviser for police national headquarters.
He might seem like an unlikely writer of cute and cheerful things but he has a gentlemanly nature and is very quietly spoken. He's always had a childlike curiosity, he says.
His three-part Maestro McNibble series, available on Amazon, follows on from two other children's books he's written, several novels and legal books. Books, he says, are his escapism.
He grew up in an impoverished household as one of 10 children. He left home at 15, returning at 17 when his mother died unexpectedly at 47. His father, an alcoholic, was left caring for his youngest siblings.
Books were scarce at home but treasured, and he won his first writing competition at 10. Most of his writing is taken from his life experiences and he used to take a book to court to jot down ideas if he had the time.
Even today with his busy schedule, he reads a lot.
"I encourage people to read … open up a new book and you open up a new world.
For me, it's trying to create a world that nobody else knows about, and something I didn't know about until I created it."
Leaving his old world behind
BATES describes his early life as deprived of material things and it pushed him to change the world he knew.
In the early 1950s as a primary-schooler, he and his family lived in a four-room "rabbit warren" of a home in the Auckland suburb of Papakura.
As you came off the street, you walked up a little path to their front door, which took you into the kitchen and dining room. Outside was a washhouse with a copper boiler that you lit a fire under to wash clothing, and a galvanised iron bath and toilet.
He shared a double bed with three of his four brothers and the wire-woven mattress made them all involuntarily roll into the middle.
As one of 10 kids (two later passed away from illness) it was first up, best-dressed and they squabbled and fought.
"We must have been like the local urchins, I'm sure," he says with a chuckle.
"We were the ones that the local cops always took the shanghais off because we (kept) having shots at things. Everybody knew the Bates kids."
They moved from house to house to house.
His father left school by 13 but was astute in his own way, Bates explains.
"He drove trucks, he worked on farms and in factories; he drove a taxi. But the common thread through all of that sadly was the alcohol. He could go to bed rolling drunk and still get up the next morning and go to work. I look back and think: 'There was strength in him somewhere, and a determination, but he just didn't have the ability to beat the drink and the drink beat him'."
He died in his early 70s.
Extended family members and a local Papakura businessman were all mentors for a young Bates, with the businessman providing work in his tearoom and fish-and-chip shop - rolling icecreams and peeling potatoes - as well as work at his home - gardening, and sanding the hull of his ski boat with wet-and-dry sandpaper.
A loving great-uncle took him on farming jobs to fix fences, grub thistles, milk cows and catch eels. At night, he'd cook up a pot of hot food and the scraps would go to ducks and chickens.
One thing that is hereditary in the Bates family is hard work, and on the day he turned 15, a young Bates left school to forge a more lucrative life.
He started off as a builder's labourer then joined the navy, but left after about three years when his mum died. He went home to help his dad, but it didn't work out.
"He was a good man in many ways … He had a good heart but I think he found it a huge struggle just coping with life. I thought I could help but I couldn't."
Bates went flatting in Papakura and began industrial work, but he couldn't settle. An IQ test in the navy had identified him as a prospect for higher education training and he couldn't let the thought go.
Then, serendipity stepped in.
A local policeman tapped him on the shoulder one day and asked: "Are you the young Bates?'
"I'm one of them, Sir?" he replied.
"Ever thought of being a policeman?"
"Well, get down to the police station and fill out the papers."
Bates did as he was told and graduated in 1966 (aged 19) from police college - the beginning of a 17-year career, which ended with him ranked as an inspector in 1981.
He started out policing in Palmerston North and then Lower Hutt at the time of the 1969 killing of Welsh hitch-hiker Jennifer Beard. He and his colleagues were all tasked wherever they went, to look out for a Vauxhall vehicle.
"I was studiously writing down registered numbers left, right and centre. I was fresh and keen."
He went from Lower Hutt to Wellington City and trained as a fingerprint technician. He was finishing night shift the day the Wahine ran aground and claimed the lives of 53 people in Wellington Harbour.
Bates was sitting in the watchhouse on April 10, 1968, when the phone rang. He answered it and a guy from Strathmore blurted: "I don't want to be alarmist or anything, but I just thought I should tell you that the ferry is coming in sideways."
Bates immediately poked the telephone at his senior sergeant: 'It's a call for you!'
Bates and his night shift colleagues rushed back to Holland House (the single men's quarters) for a shower and food, then ventured out in a long-wheelbase Land Rover through the Mirimar Cutting to see what was needed, while others led the charge elsewhere.
"There were six or eight of us in this Land Rover and the wind would tip it up on two wheels and we'd hit the road again. Sheets of iron roofing were flying about … It was just unbelievable and this went on for 24 hours."
It was, he says, an interesting era in policing. There was no internet, cellphones or radios. Instead, he walked the beat with a whistle.
As Bates continued working hard, his mind was gearing up for his next challenge.
He didn't have School Certificate or Bursary but the police provided educational papers which allowed him to move up the ranks. He wrote to Massey University and they accepted him as an adult student via correspondence.
By the time he was 24, he'd moved to Greymouth as a uniformed sergeant.
His study group, which included two nuns, would meet in the local convent to read Shakespeare.
He left Greymouth after four years to go to Christchurch as a senior sergeant and was initially contemplating an arts degree.
"I didn't know if I had the intellectual capacity to do a degree because nobody in my family had ever done one," he says.
"So I was really testing the water all the way."
He started looking through the calendar at Canterbury University and thought: "Law. 'I could do law'."
He applied to have the three English, sociology and economics papers he'd done at Massey University cross-credited and took a position at police national headquarters as a legal adviser, simultaneously completing his law degree at Victoria University in 1980.
"It was a bit of a long haul and more than a four-year degree ... I was an idiot, really," he quips.
"I can remember I'd go along to a doctor and saying: 'God, I'm feeling tired'." The doctor would smile and say: 'You know the answer'."
He stayed at police national headquarters for six years before resigning in 1981 and in 1982 going into private practice in Hamilton practising common law, criminal, family and youth law. He came to Tauranga in 1994.
The other side of the law
IT might seem unusual switching from police hierarchy to advocating for crims, but Bates says it never troubled him.
He was once assigned as a legal aid lawyer to someone in Tauranga that he'd arrested and prosecuted years ago in Greymouth.
"You really need to keep reminding yourself that you're not their judge, you're their advocate. It's critical."
Whatever he does within the law, he's always been about helping others and he's cultivated a reputation as a defender of principle. He was ministerially appointed as district inspector of mental health services for 19 years until 2008 and still does mental health advocacy.
He would spend a day a week at the now-closed Tokanui Hospital.
He met his partner, Andrea Chambers, at Tauranga District Court as she used to manage the mental health files.
She says Bates is "wonderfully empathetic" to mental health patients and can connect with youth at a deep level from a first meeting.
"He is honest, extremely professional at all times, and in spite of his level of experience he will take on all jobs big or small. I really believe they don't make barristers like him any more because he is a fine example of someone who has excelled in his craft and remained grounded at the same time. He is kind and generous and often commits hours to helping others at a fraction of the cost he could charge and often does pro-bono work."
Bates says it's always been important to him that he doesn't forget his roots.
"I've come through from a pretty basic background. And I know what it's taken for me to get me to where I am. A lot of kids can't, and maybe that's why I do the work I still do. People say why don't you retire? I'm 72. I'm not ready to retire, I'm too busy."
He's got a major gardening project on the go at home, he has two adult children, four grandchildren, he's been a visiting law lecturer at the University of Waikato, and of course, there are his books.
His latest novel was Shafts of Strife in 2016 - a socio-political crime thriller - available in hard copy and in e-book formats. The book was a long time in the making and he recalls writing some of the raw manuscript while sitting in Freyberg Community Pool in Wellington when he took his kids there to swim.
This book and many others were published by Hong-Kong based Custom Book Publications.
Polygraphia in Auckland published The Making of Travis, a dark believable tale of child abuse which he is looking at revising and republishing.
His first novel Beneath the Cherry Tree was published in 2009 and explored issues of honesty and family responsibilities.
Writing, he says, is cathartic and he'd like to do more but it's a matter of finding the time. Not much slows him down.
He suffered a heart attack in his early 50s and had a couple of stents put in. There's a family history, coupled with the fact his common working week was 80 to 100 hours.
He was good for 16 years but in late 2017 blood tests showed severe blockages. He was told he could do nothing or have a quadruple bypass. He took the latter.
"It's a massive personal event in your life and you don't know what's coming next."
But he's a stubborn soul and at times "bloody-minded", which has been useful as a lawyer but he doesn't always like that about himself.
"I know that I've got a compassionate side and I think I've got a good heart and I try to be really patient.
"I like to think most of the time I'm more helpful than not helpful, and that's why I keep doing it."
#To find out more about David Bates' books, visit: bateslaw.co.nz