He's Tauranga's high-profile family court judge. Carly Gibbs catches up with Judge Paul Geoghegan.
NIGHT was falling when Paul Geoghegan walked out the doors of Taupō District Court.
As he moved into the growing gloom, a thick voice called out: "Are you Judge Geoghegan?"
Next to the courthouse, the new Taupō Police Station was being built and security fences were down. In the fading light, the shadowy figure loomed large. Was he a builder? Or something more sinister? Unsure of the man's intentions, he hesitated before giving his answer - but as always, spoke clearly and honestly.
"Yeah, I am," he said.
The response was both surprising and utterly rewarding.
"He was a man I'd sentenced and he'd gone to prison," Geoghegan explains. "I couldn't remember him but we shook hands and we had a chat about what had happened for him when he'd come out of prison. It was the greatest thing, because he wanted to tell me that he thought the right thing had been done."
Geoghegan holds on to positive stories like precious gems.
Meaningful feedback is rare in his line of work. "It's hard to get a gauge sometimes."
On the day we meet in his well-appointed chambers in Tauranga - what's easy to gauge is that he's clearly a judge with personality.
Adorned in a pink shirt, accentuated with a pink tie, dress trousers and matching pink socks, it's the same outfit that drew favourable comments from a group of elderly women a few weeks back in Two Fish Cafe in Opotiki.
"That was very nice," he says. "I wasn't getting that feedback in court - ha ha!"
He's known for dispensing justice with a sense of humour, injecting some much-needed brightness into an often drab and dark process - though he jokes that he does have to rein himself in.
"If you use humour in a courtroom, it's generally designed to make people feel more at ease or reduce some tension."
He feels his judging style is different when dealing with teens as opposed to adults, but one thing is always the same: "I try to be empathetic. I hope I am."
Born in 1960, he was the eldest of three boys raised in South Auckland by working-class, Irish-Catholic immigrants.
His dad worked for the confectionery company Cadbury's, first in sales and then in management, and died last year at 84. His mother, who has Alzheimer's and is in a rest home, was a "very colourful person". One of his brothers is a lawyer in Portsmouth; the other an international air steward with Air New Zealand. They're all very close.
Shaped by the solid values upheld by his parents, Geoghegan has a warm personality and is very likeable.
"You know, people go through bad times," he muses. "They do dumb things; they have difficult encounters with the law. Even with the people who keep coming back time and time again, you have to keep an open mind."
He's been a district court judge for 16 years, with a background in family litigation, civil and employment law. He spends 75 per cent of his time sitting in the Family Court and the remainder in the adult and youth criminal courts.
One of eight judges based in Tauranga, he works not just in Tauranga but in the courts in Thames, Waihi, Whakatane and Opotiki and sometimes in other courts throughout New Zealand.
The Family Court is currently undergoing a review. Geoghegan is positive about potential changes, which he thinks will speed up the timeframe in which disputes are resolved. However, he cautions it's not always good to "rampage to a hearing". In family disputes, time can be a great healer.
"In other cases, where there are safety issues, you need decisive action straight away, so it depends."
He dispenses hopefully meaningful advice to separating couples: "A working relationship is not an easy thing to do, but it's possible with the right attitude." Hatred, bitterness and anger drain the life out of people, he says.
His workload is high. He tries not to work at home in the evenings, but he reads a lot and often works at the weekends. He doesn't suffer from sleepless nights.
"That's not to say you don't angst over certain decisions, but I think when you go into the law, there's a discipline that you acquire. You can't afford to let yourself worry too much about things."
To be a judge, you have to be able to make a decisive decision. There is an "undoubted grind" to the job, but he wouldn't trade it for anything.
"When I compare my situation to perhaps a social worker's situation - where they are dealing face-to-face, toe-to-toe with families, who in many instances not only don't want them to be there but are incredibly hostile towards them - well, I don't get that. I'm not the police officer who has to go to someone's door and tell them that they're just lost a loved member of the family or go out to incidents of domestic violence. There are people out there who, boy, their jobs are significantly as challenging, if not more challenging."
What's important, is clinging onto the "really nice moments".
He tells the story of a couple who sat in his chambers to complete an adoption.
"Oh man, it was just so brilliant," he says. "At the end of it, they said 'would you mind if we had a photo of you with the baby?'"
Geoghegan's rapt expression tells you he clearly did not mind at all.
Outside of court, he gives to the community. He was one of the "tight six", helping to organise - and, on two occasions, MC - the Police Charity Luncheon. The luncheon, which finished in 2014 after 20 years, raised over $2.4 million for the community.
Geoghegan would go around bumping up silent bids and invariably, come home with extra items that he wasn't really after: "I've got jerseys hanging everywhere around the (judges') corridors and some stuff in cupboards."
He also spent nine years on the board at Mount Maunganui College and six on the board at Hillcrest Normal in Hamilton. He sat on the Bay of Plenty Rugby disciplinary committee for several years and has been a Kiwi Can mentor to a local youth.
Growing up, he had a "chequered" secondary school education (he went to three high schools in four years as his parents shifted around) but enjoyed soccer, rugby league, debating and public speaking. Amusingly, his yearbook lists his probable occupation as "dictator".
After leaving school, he went to Canterbury University, worked as a law clerk at Meares Williams, then went to Chatwin Martin in Hamilton and later became a partner at Norris Ward (now Norris Ward McKinnon), before coming on to the bench in 2003.
That move was triggered by a phone call from a judge suggesting he put his name forward. It started him thinking about an alternative direction in life.
That alternative direction has led him to unexpected destinations - between 2016 and 2018, he did a stint in the Vanuatu Supreme Court as part of a programme through the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide aid to Vanuatu.
He worked in old prefabs, and sometimes, when on circuit, with no computer, kettle or toilet. He had to keep the recordings of evidence himself and evidence was often given in French and Bislama. "It was as primitive as it gets," he says, while noting it was also rewarding.
Just before he came home, he landed the task of sentencing the deputy prime minister, who had been charged with interfering with a criminal investigation. It subsequently ended his political career.
In Geoghegan's personal life; he has two sons in their 20s, one of whom is a keen surfer. He's got a surfboard himself (he does, after all, live at the Mount) but stresses he isn't very good. "Greased log, walrus … picture the two and that summarises it quite well."
There are other fun facts about him: He's a fan of the Foo Fighters and AC/DC. He's an aspiring writer of doggerel poetry and is an amateur art enthusiast. He'd love to be able to paint.
He gets a lot of motivation from those close to him; partner Maria, for instance, fought and won a battle with breast cancer. "Watching her through that … that was actually pretty inspiring."
Close mate and retired Tauranga Police Detective Sergeant Peter "Blackie" Blackwell reckons Geoghegan likes to fly under the radar when it comes to recognition, but the judge is one of life's givers and is well respected by all he connects with.
"He's a very caring person … and always supporting anything worthy."
Friend and partner at Norris Ward McKinnon, Martin Bradley, says that the "little less PC" Geoghegan is intelligent, has a good work ethic and one of his great skills is that he can talk to people from all spheres of life.
But his biggest quality is that he's "human", Bradley explains.
Which, for a prospective schoolboy dictator, is high praise indeed.
Geoghegan loves the role he plays in society.
"Sometimes you'll have positive outcomes too with what happens in court. It's not a thankless job and hopefully one that I never lose sight of the privilege of having."