Respected NSW District Court Judge Peter Zahra has died suddenly after suffering a stroke, just days after overseeing the start of the trial of Guy Sebastian’s ex-manager.
Sebastian’s former manager, Titus Day, is accused of embezzling $900,000 of the Australian Idol winner’s money.
Several members of the jury audibly gasped, and one wiped tears away, as they were informed of the news by Judge James Bennett on Monday morning.
“Oh no, oh my goodness,” one exclaimed.
A member of the jury offered her condolences to Judge Bennett on behalf of her colleagues.
“He’s [Judge Zahra] a very good friend I might say and everyone here is feeling the loss as you might imagine,” Judge Bennett said.
The trial has been adjourned until next week when it will be reallocated to another judge.
In a statement, Judge Zahra’s family said he would be remembered as a “special soul” who “touched the lives of everyone he met”.
“We have received many lovely messages and memories that demonstrate the type of person he was, he had a big heart and wanted to see everyone achieve more than what they ever thought possible,” the 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!”
Judge Zahra oversaw the trial of Hey Dad! star Robert Hughes, sentencing him for up to 10 years and nine months in prison for child sex offences.
Judge Zahra also sentenced disgraced former Auburn deputy mayor Salim Mehajer to three-and-a-half years behind bars for perverting the course of justice.
He joined the NSW Bar Association in 1988, and became a silk in 2000, previously serving as a Crown Prosecutor, Public Defender and Senior Public Defender.
President of the NSW Bar Association Michael McHugh SC described him as an “esteemed judge” and “very good man”.