NSW District Court Judge Peter Zahra dies

·3-min read

The NSW legal community is mourning Peter Zahra, one of the most senior judges on the NSW District Court, who has been described as "an esteemed judge and a very good man".

Judge Zahra suffered a suspected stroke on Thursday and died peacefully on Sunday, surrounded by his family.

Last week he began presiding over the high-profile trial of singer Guy Sebastian's former manager Titus Day, who is accused of embezzling $900,000 from the Australian Idol winner.

Sebastian, 40, was due to resume testifying in the case on Thursday but was unable to do so after the court was told that Judge Zahra was ill.

Shocked jurors were told of his death on Monday and the trial has now been adjourned until next week.

Born in 1955, the judge's family described him as a "special soul who touched the lives of everyone he met".

"He had a big heart and wanted to see everyone achieve more than what they ever thought possible," a family statement said.

"In honour of our Dad and his life, we encourage everyone to have a hot chocolate and share a dad joke in his honour!

Attorney-General Mark Speakman thanked him for his years of service to the law.

"His Honour was considered an outstanding leader in the Public Defenders Chambers - hard working, a fine advocate and dedicated to developing and maintaining the highest standard," he said.

He was also a well-respected legal author on drug laws and criminal law.

"During his 15 years on the District Court Bench, Judge Zahra earned the deep respect of his judicial colleagues, those at the bar who appeared before him and the profession more broadly," he said.

Judge Zahra began practising as a barrister in April 1988, initially as a crown prosecutor, before switching to the Public Defenders Office the following year.

He appeared in many of the state's major murder and drug trials, and was appointed as Deputy Senior Public Defender in 1999 before taking silk in 2000.

In 2001 he was appointed as Senior Public Defender before his elevation to the District Court of NSW in January 2007.

He presided over numerous high-profile cases, including the trial of Hey Dad! star Robert Hughes who was convicted of sex offences and collar bomb hoaxer Paul Douglas Peters.

NSW Bar Association president Michael McHugh said the entire legal profession mourned his death.

"Judge Zahra was a leader in the legal profession and a role model to many.

"We have lost an esteemed judge and a very good man.

"Judge Zahra's passing is a great loss to the administration of justice in NSW."

The Supreme Court of NSW said the court was greatly saddened to hear of his death.

"Judge Zahra was sworn in as a Judge of the District Court in 2007 and before joining the bench he was involved in a number of significant matters throughout his distinguished career as Crown Prosecutor, Public Defender and Senior Public Defender," the Supreme Court of NSW said in a statement.

"As a Judge of the District Court, Judge presided over numerous complex criminal matters."

Acting Chief Justice Ward said Judge Zahra's passing was significant loss for the state's legal community, and he would be sorely missed.

The Aboriginal Legal Service described Judge Zahra as a close friend.

"He was a mentor, friend and role model to many of our lawyers over the years," Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) CEO Karly Warner said.

"Since receiving the sad news of Judge's passing today, my colleagues have shared their memories of him as a warm and generous leader, and a proud working-class man who rose to the highest tiers of his profession through hard work and passion."

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