Alf is looking for an injustice to put to rights.
More particularly, he is looking for someone who has been banged up for something like – well, a widely publicised mass murder rap springs to mind.
Alf will then spring to the rescue, mounting a campaign to have the verdict overthrown, the accused person freed, and police ineptitude and injustice exposed.
Mind you, he confesses that late in the day he is apt to lack the enthusiasm and dedication of some other champions of injustice.
When the sun goes down, he might be tempted to do some of his campaigning from the inner sanctum of the Eketahuna Club. But he thinks he can persuade the club executive to let the TV cameras in on occasions – along with other news media – for interviews and so on.
But here’s the thing: first he must work out whether being a champion of injustice pays better than being a member of Parliament. He therefore has taken a keen interest in the news that…
David Bain’s champion, Joe Karam, has received more than $330,000 in legal aid since the Privy Council overturned Bain’s convictions two years ago.
The amount Karam received from July 16, 2007, to April 30 this year breaks down to $265,413 for his time and $66,180 for travel, accommodation and living costs.
Karam has been a staunch champion.
His hard work – Alf tips his hat to him – resulted in Bain being acquitted in the High Court in Christchurch last Friday on five murder charges.
But the cheering thing is that you can tap into the Legal Aid system, when you are a champion.
The Legal Services Agency disclosed yesterday that Karam was paid $75 an hour initially, and this was increased to $95 an hour from January last year.
“Joe Karam was approved to assist the legal team with general research and investigation in relation to witnesses, documentation and exhibits, both prior to and during the retrial,” the agency said.
Karam has, since 1996, fought a campaign to gain Bain a new trial for the 1994 murders of his family in Dunedin.
Karam said he had worked 70 to 80-hour weeks on the case in the past two years.
What Alf needs to work out, before turning to the championing business himself, is whether the income from the Legal Service Agency is enough to outweigh the outgoings.
He notes that Karam had told The Press previously he never counted the exact cost of campaigning for Bain, but reckoned it must be millions of dollars.
His 200 or so visits to Bain in prison probably cost about $100,000 in flights, accommodation and time lost, he said.
Alas, Alf is resigned to agreeing with Mrs Grumble that he is a bit old in the tooth to become a successful QC, which pays even better than the championing caper.
Bain’s lawyers, Michael Reed, QC, of Auckland, Helen Cull, QC, and Paul Morten, both of Wellington, and Karam’s son, Matthew, who has been paid since the retrial started on March 6, have received $903,059 in legal aid.
Reed and Cull were paid $198 an hour, Morten $182 an hour and Matthew Karam $120 an hour.
The defence team has received legal aid of $1.15 million for disbursements such as court filing fees, DNA and blood tests, specialist reports, witnesses, research, investigators and accommodation and reasonable living costs. The total spent by the defence on overseas expert witnesses was $201,759.
Fair to say, Bain is repaying some of his legal aid costs.
A Legal Services Agency spokeswoman said Bain had three legal aid grants for his retrial.
His ability to repay the debt was assessed for each application, “depending on his circumstances at that time”, she said.
Bain did not have to repay any of the retrial costs, but had a repayment scheme for his pre-trial matters. The agency said the information was private.
An assessment of people’s ability to repay some or all of their legal aid is made at the time the grant is made and depends on their income and assets.
The spokeswoman said that even if Bain were awarded compensation or gained money from his family’s estate in the future, he would not have to pay more money back.
But Bain’s obligations are not the issue.
The issue is whether Alf should make a career change, become a champion of incarcerated innocents, and get a lick at some of the dosh in the legal aid pot.
But hey. Mrs Grumble has reminded him he is already a champion. He champions the cause of the people of Eketahuna.
And come to think of it, the income for that job comes out of an amply filled trough provided by taxpayers, too.