Court’s change of guard
Wollongong District Court will have a new judge at the helm from July, after Paul Conlon said farewell to the region last week.
Judge Conlon, who has sat as the Illawarra’s most senior judicial officer for a decade, recently revealed his intention to return to Sydney to see out his time on the bench ahead of his planned retirement mid-year.
Friday was his final day in Wollongong, ending an almost 30-year run in his adopted hometown.
Judge Conlon will be replaced by Andrew Haesler.
Like his predecessor, Judge Haesler has spent much of his career based in Wollongong.
He graduated from the University of New South Wales in 1981 and began practising as a defence solicitor, working at Redfern Legal Centre, the Aboriginal Legal Service and Legal Aid in Wollongong in his early career.
Judge Haesler became a barrister in 1990, working out of chambers in Wollongong while appearing in civil and criminal hearings.
He became the South Coast’s public defender in 1995, a position he held until returning to Sydney in 2000.
Four years later he was appointment senior counsel and was welcomed to the bench as a District Court judge in September 2010.
In 2014, Judge Haesler paid tribute in the Mercury to Legal Aid colleague Michael Sergent on his retirement.
“Michael’s sole commitment was to do a good job for the people of the town. And he’s done it without ego,” Judge Haesler said.
“He just has a genuine feel for people in trouble. Every time someone bags a public servant, for working to rule, or not being polite … you think of all the public servants like Michael who just dedicate their lives to public service.”
A distinguished career
A renowned lawyer throughout his career, Judge Conlon was one of the youngest ever practitioners at the time to be appointed a Crown prosecutor.
He came to Wollongong in 1988 and spent the next 12 years prosecuting some of the Illawarra’s most depraved and despised criminals including brutal killers like Ljube Velevski, who cut the throats of his wife and three young children in 1994 and chilling double-murderer Mark Valera, who killed former Wollongong Lord Mayor Frank Arkell in 1998.
He also prosecuted recently paroled West Dapto killer Sandor Cikos.
He left Wollongong for Sydney in 2000 to accept the position of Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor. Six years later he was appointed a NSW District Court judge, taking to the bench in Wollongong a month later.
He has since forged a reputation for handing down strong penalties, particularly matters involving violence or sexual abuse.