Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
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Obituary of Paul Loewenthal Print E-mail

Ppaul_loewenthal_intro.jpgaul Loewenthal former Judge of the District Court of Queensland passed away on 25 June 2012 after a long battle with declining health.

He was born in Pretoria, South Africa on 29 April 1927. His father Joseph had left his parents and siblings behind in their native Latvia at the age of fourteen to escape religious and political persecution and begin a better life in a new world. Joseph was uneducated and unskilled and he worked hard to make a living, to find a wife and to raise a family. Paul’s early childhood was in the time of the Great Depression and there were considerable economic pressures. He was often sent to stay with relatives on a farm in Rhodesia where there was at least a steady source of food for growing young children.

Paul was schooled at Parktown Boys School in Johannesburg. He remembered his school days fondly and excelled at mathematics and science. He played rugby and boxed. After finishing high school he paul_loewenthal_01.jpgenlisted in the South African Army and saw active service with a tank division in Italy in 1944-45. After the war he took a returning serviceman’s scholarship to the University of Witwatersrand and graduated with degrees first in science and then in law. He met Raynor Shefts, a young speech therapy student, and they were married in 1958. He initially practiced as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Transvaal but was deeply unhappy with the rise of apartheid and the discrimination against native Africans. In 1963 he decided to immigrate to Australia, even though it meant giving up his successful legal practice and leaving behind family and friends. His South African qualifications weren’t recognized by the Queensland courts and that meant an extra two years as an articled clerk before he could practice. During this period Paul worked at Primrose and Couper, then a small law firm at Southport. He finished his articles and sat his bar board exams and was admitted as a barrister in 1965. He spent a year commuting from Southport before realizing that he would need to relocate to Brisbane.

He was obviously good at what he did. His opinions were respected by his peers. He was in demand and he worked long hours. Despite being busy at work, Paul still found time for his many hobbies. He loved woodworking and his house was full of furniture and ornaments that he made with his own hands. He loved the beach and the outdoors and was a keen bushwalker. Lamington National Park was one of his favourite places.

He always had stories and anecdotes from his time at the bar. He once acted for His Holiness The Pope. It was actually a dispute involving planning legislation over a property owned by the Catholic Church (and therefore nominally owned by the Pope). It was still quite early in his career and when a senior member of the clergy asked him to represent them he said “But I’m Jewish! Surely there must be many well respected Catholic barristers available”. “Well yes, but they have the idea that we would expect the work to be provided pro bono.” “And…?” “You don’t think that we could possibly ask a Protestant! ….. So we’ve decide to ask you.” He took the case and won. Pro bono.

In 1972 the highest court of appeal was still the Privy Council of England, but it was very uncommon that leave was granted to appear in such hallowed ground. Paul was involved in a matter to do with the Gold Coast City Council. Again it was a planning dispute that had ricocheted its way through the lower courts. They found a question of law that was untested, upon which the case pivoted. He travelled to London on the instructions of his paul_lowwenthal_02.jpgclient and successfully defended the appeal at the Privy Council. Not long after that case, the right to take matters to England for appeal was revoked.

Paul was offered an appointment as a District Court Judge in 1974. He considered the advantages and the disadvantages and he realized that he would only get asked once. Ultimately his decision came down to his love of his family. The hours were less onerous and much more predictable. There were longer breaks and he could retire earlier. His father Joseph had to say goodbye to his family at the age of 14, and after Paul left South Africa in 1963 he saw his mother only one more time before she died. Joseph had passed away in 1973; the year before the judicial appointment opportunity arose. Paul said that he really didn’t get to know his father all that well and didn’t want to miss out on getting to know his children. Life on the bench had it rewards. He still worked hard but the hours were much better. He earned the respect of the lawyers that appeared before him. He had a sharp legal mind and his judgments were rarely overturned in higher courts. He had a reputation for dealing with matters swiftly and efficiently. Whenever he went on circuit he made a point of sitting for as long as necessary to clear the backlog of cases. He would say that litigants and criminals had waited long enough for their day in court and that he had an obligation to provide finality and allow them to get on with their lives.

In his many years on the bench he presided over thousands of cases, but it came down to a career conman, a crooked trainer and a few greedy bookmakers to result in a trial which captured the nation’s attention. “Fine Cotton” has become part of Australian folklore. A racehorse switching scam that came undone when the shoe polish and hair dye that the perpetrators had used to change the colour of the racehorse started running and streaking as the horse sweated during the race. This was the one that caught the public’s attention, partly due to the national passion for horse-racing and partly to the audacity and stupidity of the crime itself.

Paul retired at 61. That was the first opportunity to access his full pension. He had a long list of things to do. Paul and Raynor travelled extensively to Europe, America, South Africa and SE Asia. They became grey nomads and explored many parts of Australia. He concentrated on his hobbies. He paul_loewenthal_03.jpgbought a shed. (Every man needs a shed). Grandchildren provided the opportunity to extend his talents into toy making. He never regretted his decision to retire relatively early. It was his belief that the judiciary should not lose touch with the common people. He certainly didn’t miss the stress. Occasionally during a “State of Origin” match he would point to a Blues player and shout “lock him up” and be somewhat dismayed when the bailiffs didn’t take to the field to enforce his judgment! He eventually exhausted the list of things to do in retirement and decided to get back into legal work. He was invited onto a number of tribunals and enquiries. He chaired the Retail Shop Leases Tribunal and was responsible for much of the legislation for that body. Later, he was appointed chairman of the Queensland Building Tribunal. He eventually retired for the second and final time 10 years after leaving the bench. Paul and Raynor relocated to the Gold Coast and he spent his final years enjoying time with family and friends.

He is survived by Raynor; his wife of 54 years, his two sons; Mark and Anton, and his five grandsons; Max, Oliver, Zac, Josh and Sam. 

Anton Loewenthal


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