The late Wollongong District Court judge Joe Phelan will be remembered as a brilliant legal mind and a compassionate man with a strong sense of justice.
The retired judge, 74, died on Monday after a long illness and time in respite care.
The Illawarra legal fraternity is mourning the death of Mr Phelan who worked in the NSW District Court in Wollongong for 19 years.
Mr Phelan retired in 2006, aged 66, after health issues and an exhaustive workload encouraged him to call it a day.
Barrister Jane Healey, who worked alongside Mr Phelan for six years as a judge’s associate, said she was terribly saddened by his death.
Ms Healey paid tribute to Mr Phelan publicly on Tuesday during a sitting at Sutherland District Court before Judge Paul Conlon.
‘‘I announced to the court the passing of the late Judge Phelan and expressed my condolences to his family and recognised the immense good that he had done during his lengthy time as a NSW District Court judge, most of which was spent in Wollongong,’’ she said.
‘‘His Honour [Judge Conlon] concurred with my comments and added that he [Mr Phelan] indeed was a great man, with which I agree,’’ Ms Healey said.
Wollongong solicitor Graeme Morrison believes Mr Phelan was one of the best judges on the bench.
‘‘He was one of the great legal minds and a thorough gentleman of the bar,’’ Mr Morrison said.
‘‘He had a very strong social conscience and he treated all before him as equals.
‘‘He tried to humanise the daunting experience of appearing in the District Court as much as possible, so the best qualities of any person appearing before him were brought to the fore.
‘‘He was a really lovely man. It’s a tragic loss.’’
One of five children, Mr Phelan grew up in a strong Labor household on the NSW North Coast.
His father, of Irish descent, was a dairy farmer and later a Nestle factory worker who instilled in his son a strong sense of justice.
His mother was an infants’ school teacher.
‘‘My mother encouraged me to go into law because she believed it could lead to a political career but I have never really aspired to that,’’ Mr Phelan told the Mercury in a 2006 interview.
Mr Phelan studied for five years at Sydney University and at the end of 1962 started working with the Public Solicitor’s Office in Sydney.
He stayed for four years before being transferred to Wollongong, and became a judge in 1987.