Community mourns passing of Ernie Magni

Big heart: Solicitor Ernie Magni died on Wednesday, aged 66.
Big heart: Solicitor Ernie Magni died on Wednesday, aged 66.

A HOLE has been left with the passing of the Mid-North Coast's son who refused to give up on his community's most marginalised people.

Family and friends were with Port Macquarie lawyer Ernie Magni when he died on Wednesday aged 66.

He was a core part of life for many across the state through his work with the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS).

Racism was part of daily life for the migrant and only child who moved to Sydney's inner-western suburbs from Italy in the early 1950s.

Adrian Magni said his father strived to achieve daily change for Aboriginals.

"He said the Aboriginals were the only people who had it worse than the wogs," the younger Mr Magni said.

Ernie's career started with the ALS in Redfern, shifted north to Newcastle before Kempsey and Port Macquarie became his bases in 1980.

He met Gemunu Kumarasinhe in 1985 and the pair worked and grew together in law and friendship.

"Ernie was fondly known as SS, or 'super slick' which was coined by our dear friend Bruce Miles," the now barrister said.

"He had a great compassion and understanding of all human races."

Ernie Magni moved to Sydney's inner-western suburbs from Italy in the early 1950s.

Ernie Magni moved to Sydney's inner-western suburbs from Italy in the early 1950s.

Mr Kumarasinhe said his friend had the "highest regard and respect for our judicial system".

"He very strongly believed in the presumption of innocence, but at the same time he accepted decisions handed down with grace and respect."

Ernie covered countless kilometres over the years in aid of his clients, often with them riding alongside him.

"He would go out of his way all the time to drive people from prison to [rehabilitation facility] Benelong's Haven," daughter Clare Magni said.

"There were people who he kept driving back, refusing to give up on them."

He was undoubtedly big-hearted, but his respect for court was paramount.

Former corrective services and police officer Bill Butler recalled the moment years ago when a defendant smashed out of the dock in Port Macquarie Local Court.

The man charged towards the magistrate, only to be brought down by a small squad of armed officers.

In the middle of the scrum was the silver locks and trimmed moustache was Ernest Magni, the only man without a weapon and the defendant's solicitor.

Perhaps the person whose life he enriched most was the woman he loved.

Joan Cornelius "didn't go for him at all" when they met at the ALS office in 1994.

This was despite him turning on the charm.

"One time I was sitting down in the office, he looked to me and said 'I love the view,'" Ms Cornelius laughed.

But Ernie didn't rush things; like the best of his trade, he knew the value of groundwork.

Three months later he made his move.

Asked to describe their first kiss at Crescent Head, Ms Cornelius shook her head and sang softly "heaven is that moment".

Ernie will be farewelled at 10am on Thursday at St Agnes Catholic Church, Hay Street.

Special tributes:

Ernie Magni with the love of his life Joan.

Ernie Magni with the love of his life Joan.

Ernest Magni, 1949 - 2015

Gemunu Kumarasinhe, barrister, Lennox Head – “It was never a ‘holy war’ for Ernie. He was a man of great decency to his fellow human beings. He did not judge or see people as adversaries: he saw them all as his friends. We will have to steel ourselves now, learn from him and move on.”

Clare Magni, daughter and solicitor, Lismore – “He never gave up on people. He always put others before himself. You know he never used to eat lunch? He would spend every lunchbreak visiting people in the cells, people with no-one else.”

John Carty, barrister, Bellingen – “He was greatly respected by everyone he crossed paths with. His court conduct was graceful and he was so down-to-earth I think everyone got along with him.”

Bill Butler, retired police and corrective services, Port Macquarie – “The thing with Ernie was he was a straightshooter. An honest man, that’s what I liked. He could be one of the boys and relate to anybody, and then have excellent skills in court. I’ve seen him under huge stress and he was a cool head. He was a character even when he was under fire.”

Wayne Evans, retired police, barrister and magistrate, Port Macquarie – “Ernie mixed so well in the Aboriginal community that I think they forgot he was Italian. His clients may not have always appreciated what they got, but he always got them the best result. He realised the benefit of a plea of guilty if it was the only option, and he never let his clients down. Through it all, he kept his sense of humour, which was not directed at his client but more often towards me. And if I happened to cite cases that suited his client he made sure I never forgot it.  

Joan Cornelius, partner, Port Macquarie – “I learned a lot from Ernie. He opened the gates of the world for me. In my heart I’m dancing for him.”