From the front row to the bench

As the son of Samoan immigrants to New Zealand, Mike Mika grew up idolising All Blacks great Sir Bryan Williams.

Born in Lower Hutt, the new District Court Judge moved to Auckland at 14, so his dad could continued his training as a methodist church minister.

After made the First XV at Selwyn College and also played basketball, volleyball and cricket before moving to Dunedin to study law at Otago University.

It was "BeeGee Williams" who called him up in 1994 and said Manu Samoa selectors had their eye on the Otago front rower.

Mika went on to play in two Rugby World Cups in the blue jersey and said Sir Bryan even inspired him to join the legal profession.

"We used to watch (rugby games on TV) and they would say the player, age and profession and you would see for the All Blacks then it was a farmer or stock agent," he recalled.

"Then there was this Samoan icon, legend who was a lawyer and I thought 'wow'. Then I thought, 'what's a lawyer' and asked around and basically it was because of Sir Bryan that piqued my interest in the law and that's why I got into the law."

Mika was recently appointed as New Zealand's first Pasifika resident district court judge outside of Auckland, returning to preside in Kairangi, the Hutt Valley region where he was born.

The 52 year old played 15 tests for Samoa between 1995 and 1999, and also played professionally for the Highlanders and Coventry in the UK.

While he did harbour dreams of wearing a black jersey like his idol BeeGee Williams, Mika said when the chance to play alongside legends like Peter Fatialofa, Pat Lam and Brian Lima came up, he didn't think twice.

"The opportunity arose to represent Samoa and I just leapt at it". 

"The All Blacks were well-served with Craig Dowd, Olo Brown, and it was great playing against those guys because you could kind of measure where you were.

"Well Sir Bryan rang, BeeGee rang, I jumped at the opportunity. For me personally, I never thought it would happen."

Mika was admitted to the bar in 1996 and said his rugby career took off at the perfect time.

"I had just finished my law degree and just had my first job in Dunedin at O'Driscoll and Marks and actually one of the principals there, Stephen O'Driscoll, he's a district court judge in Christchurch.

"So I was fortunate that I had an employer that was quite generous in basically letting me do the rugby thing at the same time, so I was fortunate."

But he always knew he would return to the legal profession.

"Rugby was my sporting career but this, here, was always going to be my career," he said.

"My wife Janes tells a story because in 1994 I was over in South Africa with Otago and I broke and dislocated my ankle. I came back in crutches and I think the papers, the ODT, rang and spoke to her and said: 'a serious injury, Mike's career is over,' to which Jane replied, 'well that's not his career'."

Mike Mika said it was flattering to be considered a role model for the Pasifika community. 

The 52 year old said his background, coming from a migrant, working class family meant he understood the challenges faced by many who come before him in court.

"My approach coming into this role, and it relates back to my sporting background, is to give everyone a fair crack," he said.

"People like to see people like them in places like this so it's just creating that environment. The results will still be the results - it's always going to be based on the evidence and the facts - but to try and create and environment where people feel they're having a fair crack, they're being listened to."

One of the big drivers in his role as a District Court Judge is to give better opportunities to young people," Mika said.

"Education is important, as is going to tertiary studies but as long as these kids and our kids are doing something, whether it be varsity or a trade or Polytech of whatever, as long as you're doing something and you have a career.

"You can have a rugby career but that's only as long as an injury or a new coach - it's very short."

Mike Mika continues to combine his love for rugby and the law in his role as a judicial officer for SANZAAR and World Rugby, and even manages to stretch his legs for the occasional friendly game when time allows.

Despite being born in Hurricanes country, Judge Mika said the ruling on his Super Rugby allegiance was crystal clear.

"Look, first always a Highlander but the Canes have always been my second team," he laughed.

"Always the Highlanders."