City lawyer made district court judge

Preston Russell lawyer Mike Mika, of Invercargill, was announced a district court judge last week. Photo: Supplied

IT was former rugby coach Sir Bryan Williams who was the inspiration behind Invercargill Crown lawyer and former Manu Samoa and Highlanders player Mike Mika taking up the profession.

“He was basically the first Samoan player to play for the All Blacks and he was a lawyer,” Mr Mika said.

So it was, that the son of Samoan-born parents, his dad a Methodist minister and his mum a factory worker, decided to attend Otago University and study law.

Last week, Mr Mika was appointed a District Court judge to preside in the Lower Hutt District Court from April.

Despite having known since December, Mr Mika was only able to call his parents last week to tell them the news.

While his mum and dad were out at a shopping centre in South Mangere on Tuesday, he told them he was to become a judge.

“There was just joy and pride and tears,” Mr Mika said.

“They were thankful we’ve achieved the goal that we’ve talked about for a long time.”

At the beginning of his law career, Mr Mika was always able to combine his two passions of rugby and law.

He was at university when he first put on the Otago jersey. After he graduated, he worked for O’Driscoll and Marks in Dunedin, where he undertook defence and family work, while also playing for Otago and the Highlanders.

He had a couple of seasons playing for Southland while he worked for Cruickshank Pryde in Invercargill part time.

After playing in the 1995 World Cup representing Samoa, he travelled to Coventry, in the United Kingdom, where he would spend the next four-and-a-half seasons playing for the Coventry Rugby Football Club.

In 2003, he returned to New Zealand with wife Jane and son Jacob and began working for Crown firm Preston Russell Law in Invercargill; he was now a director of the firm.

Throughout the years, he had continued criminal Crown as well as Family Court work, where he worked as a lawyer for children, representing them in relationship separations.

He joined several Preston Russell lawyers who had become judges former Crown solicitor Judge Alistair Garland was appointed in 2005.

In his new role Mr Mika did not intend to take a stern approach.

“I’m just trying to make sure everyone has a fair crack,” he said.

He was proud of his Samoan heritage and said having diversity was important.

“It’s good for people to see people that look like them.

“The decisions will still be based on facts, it’s the environment in which it’s heard ease, I suppose.”

After being sworn in on March 6, in Invercargill, he would spend three to four weeks observing and learning from other judges throughout the country before he took up his post in Lower Hutt.

Mrs Mika and Jacob, who was now in year 13 at James Hargest College, would remain in Invercargill for the time being, he said.

There were definitely skills he learnt in rugby which had stood him in good stead while working as a lawyer, Mr Mika said.

“I suppose the biggest thing for me is working as a team and that’s especially transferable into our Crown team.

“Both Crown and defence deal with tough, tough offences so working as a team, that’s been one of the biggest things that came through from sport… just being able to back your team-mate up.

“I never played individual sport. I’m useless at golf… being with teams you develop those skills of teamwork and fair play.”

He had no doubt this teamwork would continue as a judge, as many had already contacted him offering assistance, he said.

He was yet to have discussions with the ILT board and chief executive Chris Ramsay about his future as its deputy chairman, and decisions would have to be made about his role as trustee of Miharo, he said.

Although he was looking forward to becoming a judge, his departure from Invercargill would be bittersweet.

So what would he miss most?

“It’s a simple one, it’s the friends we’ve made here. We’ve made lifelong friends here is where my son has been raised, this is his home town. They’re our family.”