Colleagues have paid tribute to Wollongong lawyer Michael Sergent, who retires today after 28 years with the Legal Aid service.
After starting as a criminal lawyer, Mr Sergent headed the Wollongong office’s civil law division, where he was involved in numerous high-profile cases in the Illawarra.
One of his first civil cases was to represent Helen Hamilton in her challenge to the development consent given to the copper smelter at Port Kembla – a case which ended when special legislation was passed to prevent the matter going ahead.
Mr Sergent also led the campaign for Wollongong residents whose houses were damaged in the 1998 floods, but whose insurers had refused to pay. The campaign saw most insurance companies pay up and the government and insurers work on a proper definition of ‘‘flood’’.
He also succeeded in representing the retiree residents of Kanahooka’s Lakeline Estate, who found their homes had been wrongfully mortgaged from under them by park owner Bruce Maples. After a campaign supported by the Mercury, the retirees won back ownership of their homes.
Colleagues have described him as modest, selfless and committed.
District Court Judge Andrew Haesler yesterday described him as a ‘‘saint’’ whose dedication to helping people was the definition of true public service.
Read a full profile of Michael Sergent in Saturday's Mercury.