Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Casey, Daniel (Dan) (1899–1987)

by James Crowley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Daniel (Dan) Casey (1899-1987), lawyer, was born on 26 September 1899 at Mitchell, Queensland, fourth of nine children of Queensland-born parents John Casey, acting-sergeant of police, and his wife Ada Frances, née Grogan. Dan’s four grandparents had been born in Ireland and he was to retain pride in his Irish heritage all his life. The family moved to Inglewood when he was very young and then, about 1912, to Bundaberg. He attended Bundaberg State High School, passing the junior public examination in 1915, and joined the staff of the Queensland National Bank. In 1919 he was articled to his brother John, a solicitor at Ipswich, transferring next year to Frank Brennan, and finally to Leonard Power. Qualifying as a solicitor on 4 May 1926, he practised at Nanango until 1934. He moved to Brisbane and on 3 July that year was admitted to the Bar.

As a barrister specialising in criminal matters, Casey was busy from the start, and in 1936 a sensational murder trial attracting much publicity secured his reputation, even though he lost the case. His client Herbert Kopit had been accused of murdering a person on a train, and had confessed to police. The motive was apparently robbery, but there were no witnesses. A psychologist called by Casey to give evidence deposed that Kopit was insane at the time he struck the fatal blows. Casey sought unsuccessfully to have the record of Kopit’s confession excluded from the evidence, which was fatal for the defence case.

Casey was an alcoholic who lost many briefs because of his problem. In 1947, encouraged by family and friends, he agreed to meet Lillian Roth, a founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in the United States of America, who was visiting Brisbane. Her effect on Casey was immediate: he stopped drinking and established a local branch of AA. He worked tirelessly for years supporting the organisation and encouraging hundreds to abstain and to embrace the twelve steps of the AA program. A supporter of Vince Gair and Ted Walsh during the Australian Labor Party split, he unsuccessfully contested the seat of Brisbane for the Queensland Labor Party in the 1957 State election.

In 1959 Casey defended Neville Pressler, a Bundaberg cane-farmer, who was found guilty of murdering his neighbours Clifford and Marjorie Golchert. Shortly after, Pressler’s uncle, Henry Edward Pressler, was found dead with a handwritten suicide note, confessing to the murders, and a rifle close by. Neville’s mother, Enid Ethel Pressler, was charged with Henry’s murder. Casey—with his junior (Sir) Gerard Brennan, later chief justice of the High Court of Australia—defended Mrs Pressler in what was to be his most famous case. The Crown asserted that, when her son was found guilty of murdering the Golcherts, Mrs Pressler forged the suicide note and killed her brother-in-law. It called expert evidence to establish that she was the author of the letter. Mrs Pressler claimed that Henry Pressler had dictated the `confession’, and signed it, on the day of his death. After a trial lasting nine days the jury returned a verdict of `not guilty’. According to Kerry Smith, `the end of the trial was a triumph for Mr Casey, one of the State’s leading criminal advocates’. Brennan was later to refer to Casey as `a legend in his own lifetime’.

Sir Dormer Andrews, chief justice of Queensland (1985-89), described Casey as `a silver-tongued orator but with all the tradesman like virtues of a thoroughly efficient practising lawyer. Superb in cross-examination he was unerringly relevant and learned in the law’. His integrity was `beyond question’. Sir Harry Gibbs, chief justice of the High Court (1981-87), observed that he was adept at identifying and exploiting any weakness in the Crown case and in skilfully using his eloquence to sway juries. Casey, who suffered from ill health from the 1960s, took few briefs after 1975. In 1984 the Queensland Bar Association honoured him with a dinner to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his admission. He was a devout Catholic who enjoyed horse-racing, Rugby League football and boxing. Unmarried, he died on 27 June 1987 at his Woolloongabba home and was buried in Hemmant cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Smith, Dan Casey (1987)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 27 June 1936, p 15, 29 June 1987, p 9
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 Nov 1959, p 1, 4 Nov 1960, p 3
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 4 Nov 1960, p 1.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

James Crowley, 'Casey, Daniel (Dan) (1899–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/casey-daniel-dan-12295/text22079, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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