[Author – Tim ODwyer]
My friend and colleague Judy Teitzel died shortly before Christmas last year. She was only 45 years of age. Few lawyers would be as outraged on behalf of disadvantaged clients, as solicitor Judy once was, to accuse a government of “gutter tactics”. Even fewer would, as Judy once did, describe a Fair Trading Minister as the minister for “unfair trading”.
No wonder, when the Beattie Government in 2002 retrospectively changed the law to prevent scammed property investors claiming compensation from a statutory fund, this battler for the battlers was vilified under parliamentary privilege by the same minister.
Although, according to the long-gone minister, she had smeared the reputation of the her profession, Brisbane-based Judy Teitzel was respected and well-regarded as an outspoken lawyer of integrity by her colleagues, by the media and by many ordinary folk.
She was widely known for representing hundreds of mums and dads fighting to regain life savings lost to Queensland’s overpriced property marketeering schemes. She fought their battles valiantly in tribunals, in courts and in the media. She and I became close allies in a common ongoing war against not only real estate rogues but also lame legislators and limp-wristed regulators. While I rescued novice investors from dodgy deals without court action, between us, we had some great wins. In fact, Judy’s early successes (and the prospect of many more) in the Property Agents and Motor Dealers Tribunal directly prompted the shameful retrospective legislation – essentially because there would not be enough money in the depleted, but government-guaranteed, fund to cope with all the claims in the pipeline. My phone and email tag for her was “Hey Jude”.
When the schemes and the victims’ plight were in the news, Jude appeared regularly on radio and TV and was quoted in state, national and international papers and magazines. Her constant media themes were concern for her clients, condemnation of crooks and contempt for governments which failed to protect vulnerable consumers. “Judy was never in it for the media attention – she would have been just as happy without it,” Gold Coast solicitor Abbi Beggs said at the funeral. “She taught me that integrity and respect for what she did was more important than any perceived glory which may come from it.”
Most of Judy’s unfinished marketeering cases went into limbo last year when the law firm where she had been a senior associate dumped its clients following a couple of unfortunate losses.
Nevertheless, none of her clients knew that Judy had put their matters before her own health battles.
In 2003 a lump in her breast was diagnosed as malignant cancer. After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation she seemed cancer free for two years. Then secondary cancers were discovered throughout her body. She would schedule renewed chemotherapy treatments for Friday evenings to ensure little inconvenience for her clients.
“She taught me that it was important to take time out, although later, when I tried to remind her of that lesson she wouldn’t take her own advice,” said Abbi Beggs.
Judy went on the drug Herceptin with marvellous results. It prevented the tumours increasing while significantly shrinking them. She lived in hope – until she received bad news in January 2006. Cancer had spread to her brain where Herceptin was of no avail. The tumours were inoperable while extensive radiation treatment might have caused collateral brain damage. She resigned her job, travelled overseas and resolved: “I don’t have to live forever, I just have to live long enough for the world to find a cure.”
Determined not to let cancer rule her life, she returned home to a government legal position. But late in 2006 she began having difficulty finding words. After next encountering problems with writing, she soon had to end her chosen career. The tumours were growing aggressively. She went into palliative care where she spent her last weeks surrounded by family and close friends.
Jude had enjoyed a carefree childhood as her parents moved around Queensland and New South Wales before they settled in the Brisbane bayside suburb of Wynnum.
Following admission as a solicitor in 1989 she practised in personal injuries, commercial litigation and in planning and environment. She had outstanding academic qualifications: a Bachelor of Arts with Honours, a Law degree and a Master of Laws degree.
She developed a profound sense of social justice, preferring to act for average rather than affluent clients. She settled Queensland’s first class action – for students who suffered food poisoning after a school formal. She concluded another for Queensland Rail employees discriminated against because of colour-blindness. Her longstanding relationship with the Meatworkers Union enabled her to represent many meatworkers on compensation claims.
The old joke is that the difference between a bull-terrier and a lady lawyer is … lipstick! My mate Jude may have been a relentless litigator, but underneath was a soft romantic who gave much of herself to others. She was a devoted, cat-loving aunt to her nephew and nieces, and an accomplished embroiderer who won awards for her complex and beautiful pieces.
As a consummate professional – outwardly strong, inwardly reflective – Judy thought deeply about people, issues and her life philosophy. She told few people of her struggle with cancer. She wasn’t ready to die, had much still to do and intended to leave the law for something less relenting. She set herself goals right to the end – like trying to teach her nieces to sew.
Judy Teitzel is survived by her parents, Hazel and Lionel, her sisters Susan and Lisa and by her nephew Peter and nieces Kataryna, Cecile and Izabella.
Hey Jude, we will remember you most for your contagious laugh and gregarious nature.