By JOSIE CLARKE
The American billionaire drug-smuggler who fought the Herald for eight months to keep his name a secret in New Zealand is Ohio insurance magnate Peter Benjamin Lewis.
His name can finally be disclosed after a Court of Appeal decision that legal experts say hammers home the importance of open justice in this country.
Lewis, aged 66, is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Progressive Corporation, the United States' fourth-largest vehicle insurer.
The company employs 14,000 people and generates $US6 billion in revenue a year.
The fight to name him began on January 7 in the Otahuhu District Court when Judge David Harvey granted Lewis name suppression and discharged him without conviction for importing more than 100g of cannabis.
Professor John Burrows, University of Canterbury law professor and media law commentator, said the judgment emphasised that lower court judges needed to give reasons in open court for their decisions, "and if they don't there will be questions asked as to whether they have taken freedom of expression into account.
"And it's not just a question of open justice or freedom of expression. Courts have to be seen to treat people fairly. One of the worst public perceptions is that different categories of people are treated differently by the courts."
Lewis' lawyer, Marie Dyhrberg, said from Dublin yesterday that she and her client had discussed all the options and decided against lodging any further appeals.
She said Lewis would not be making a public comment.
"He's disappointed. He obviously feels for Judge Harvey, who he thought made a really good decision."
Lewis regretted importing the cannabis and felt it was an "absolutely stupid thing to do," said Marie Dyhrberg.
A reporter on Ohio's Cleveland Plain-Dealer newspaper, Mike Tobin, said Lewis seemed to be carrying on with business as usual.
Herald lawyer Bruce Gray said the case was "an important reminder for us all of the importance of justice being administered in public."
Judges would have to justify and give their reasons for making a suppression order in future, because any name suppression interfered with freedom of expression.
"The principle has been sufficiently important that the effort has been warranted," Mr Gray said.
Judge Harvey was on leave from the Otahuhu court yesterday. Department for Courts spokesman Neil Billington said the Judiciary would not comment on his performance.
Lewis arrived in New Zealand on January 5 to holiday on his luxury converted tug Lone Ranger during the America's Cup regatta.
Customs officers at Auckland Airport found 33g of cannabis in his luggage. A search of Lone Ranger turned up a further 47g of cannabis plant and 56g of cannabis resin.
Lewis appeared in court on January 6 and 7, when Judge Harvey discharged him without conviction and with permanent name suppression.
The judge then sent him on his way, saying "Enjoy the fresh air. Our harbour is a wonderful place and I'm sure you're out there enjoying it. Don't let anything get in the way of you and the atmosphere."
After the hearing Ms Dyhrberg warned the Herald reporter covering the case of dire consequences if anything was published to indicate his identity.
"Don't try anything cute because we'll sue the arse of you and he has the money to do it," she said.
While in New Zealand, Lewis visited his daughter, who lives at Waitai Station, a 2000ha farm on D'Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds.
The woman and her husband, who previously lived in Colorado, bought the sheep station for between $3 million and $4 million in April last year and are building a mansion, two holiday chalets, plus a schoolroom and library to home-school their three children.
Eccentric billionaire has high profile at home
Anonymous calls tipped off Herald newsroom to billionaire case
Herald Online feature: Naming the billionaire
By JOSIE CLARKE