October 2012

Star pupil of Stella Maris

South Australia’s newest District Court Judge, Paul Slattery, reflects on the contribution of family, faith and education toward his journey to the Bench.

BY Rebecca DiGirolamo

Like many kids in the southern Adelaide suburbs of Darlington, and later Sturt, Judge Paul Slattery recalls a childhood where “you had to make your own fun”.

“We were all in the same circumstance together,” he says.

It was a time when Darlington was a developing suburb on the outskirts of town and services were limited.

“The little we had, we valued enormously and we learnt to be independent and self sufficient,” he says from his District Court chambers in the historic Samuel Way Building on Adelaide’s picturesque Victoria Square.

His father – a World War II veteran who saw the “worst” of the war fighting in the Kokoda Track campaign – sold pharmaceuticals to support his wife and six children. Despite their circumstances, Judge Slattery says his parents always made their children’s education a top priority.

“The education that my parents provided included university education for many of their children; something they could only dream of.”

Judge Slattery, 57, was a student at Stella Maris Parish School in Seacombe Gardens a few years after it was founded in 1956 by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, an order of nuns his older sister Catherine joined and remains with in Sydney. He is most likely the school’s first old scholar to have been appointed a Judge.

“It was a school during the week and a Church on the weekend,” he says. “We had 81 children in my Year 2 class and we all learnt to read, write and do arithmetic.” And he says the Sisters did their best running the school on a shoestring budget. “It seems extraordinary now looking back. I don’t know how the Sisters did it.”

Judge Slattery went on to study at Sacred Heart College from Years 4 to 12. It was at around age 12 at Sacred Heart that he began to contemplate the possibility of a law degree following a chance conversation with then Parish Priest Philip Kennedy, who later became Auxiliary Bishop of Adelaide. Father Philip was a lawyer who left Thomson Muirhead Varley and Evans to enter the seminary. It is the same firm Judge Slattery’s son Charles now works with (today the firm is called Thomsons Lawyers).

“I found him to be an extraordinary man,” says Judge Slattery. “And he influenced me,” he says. “Outside of my family and teachers, he was one of the first people in my life to ask me about my studies. And where I lived most males left school at 15 and went to do a trade. That was the way. But for the first time I could understand that someone else was encouraging me to think about, and go further, with my studies. I think he could see potential.”

Judge Slattery was appointed to the District Court on June 26. His appointment was marked by a special sitting of the District Court on July 25, in which Attorney General John Rau highlighted Judge Slattery’s legal accomplishments over the past three decades.

One year after graduating from Law School in 1978, Judge Slattery was admitted as a practitioner of the Supreme Court and within seven years became a partner of O’Loughlin Robertson and Co. From there followed a succession of legal appointments and partnerships.

In 1993, as a partner of Baker O’Loughlin, Judge Slattery was appointed Barrister-in-charge of the litigation for the Crown Solicitor’s Office brought against the auditors and directors of the State Bank of South Australia and the auditors of Beneficial Finance Corporation.

In 2003 he was appointed Queen’s Counsel and has served on numerous legal and education committees, boards and councils, including the South Australian Catholic Child Protection Council in 2005 (a position he has relinquished since his appointment to the Bench). A respected civil litigator, he has offered many hours of legal pro-bono work and been involved in cases for war veterans as well as serving on committees concerned with children at risk, Catholic Church charities and alternative dispute resolution.

Judge Slattery has been married to Andrea for the past 33 years and has four sons – Christopher, James, Charles and Henry – and four grandchildren.

At the special sitting, Mr Rau said: “The unkindest thing anyone could think to say of your Honour is that you have been unfailingly generous with your time and that your Honour is hardworking, knowledgeable, likeable and honest to a fault.

“I look forward to the enthusiasm that your Honour has demonstrated with your family, career and sport being brought to the Bench.”

Judge Slattery says much of his success comes from a learned family culture of hard work and honest self assessment. He thanks his father for both.

A child of the Depression forced to attend to school without shoes and a very young soldier of war, his father John Vincent Slattery felt the effects that such experience inevitably brings.

Judge Slattery says the example of his parent’s honesty, generosity and their hard-working ethos were virtues that had served him well within the legal profession.

“Both my parents… were born and raised in Sydney and… suffered the deprivations of the Great Depression soon followed by the horrors of the Second World War. It was therefore with extraordinary courage that they left the relative comforts of their Sydney home and struck out for Adelaide… and they created a wonderful love-filled home in Adelaide in which my sisters and my brother all thrived.”

This article, written by Rebecca DiGirolamo, was first published in the October 2012 edition of The Southern Cross, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Adelaide. Photos supplied by The Southern Cross.

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