Former Waitangi Tribunal presiding judge and district court judge Richard Kearney died suddenly at the weekend, aged 74.

The Mount Maunganui man had a turn during Sunday morning's Easter mass at church and died later that day.

After leaving his position as a judge at Wellington District Court in 1989, Richard Kearney moved to Bay of Plenty, where he presided as a judge at Tauranga District Court.

He retired from his position at the court in 1995 but joined the Waitangi Tribunal shortly afterwards, serving on it for eight years.

Judge Kearney chaired hearings on Maori land claims in Tauranga during his seven years as a presiding judge for the Tribunal.

There were 215 hearings, which began in February 1998. These included 55 individual claimants.

The hearings led to a report being presented at Welcome Bay's Hairini marae in September last year. Judge Kearney attended the event with hundreds of Maori.

The tribunal found that all 55 of the Maori claimants had justifiable grievances.

His son, Chris Kearney said his father "was a very loveable man, he loved to entertain people and was incredibly kind-hearted."

Judge Kearney kept himself busy with golf and bowls in his later years, which his son said helped his health after he contracted hepatitis C during a quadruple bypass in 1992.

Judge Kearney was married to Betty for 55 years, was father to five children, and a grandfather to nine.

It is believed the funeral will be held later this week.

- NZPA