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11 July, 2008  
Goings on ...

No decision on CJ – logjam in Ruddy’s office … Ron Sackville’s new job … Kirbs and same sex super … Much ado in Van Diemen’s Land – wig crisis and jobs-for-favours investigation

imageDespite much hyperventilation and speculation from scribblers and other observers, the government still has not made the decision as to who will be the next CJ of the High Court.

Given that Smiler becomes constitutionally senile on August 30, the window of time is rapidly diminishing.

In fact, the announcement in 1998 of Gleeson’s appointment as chief justice was made by the Howard people a good two months before Gerry Brennan was due to retire.

Here we are seven weeks from Gleeson shuffling off to change the grand kiddies nappies and still no decision has been made.

All submissions on the appointment have to go to 07’s office. That might explain why movement is slow.

* * *

Irascible Ron Sackville retires from the Federal Court on August 25. The drum is that shortly after he’ll commence work as an acting judge of the NSW Supreme Court.

imageHe’ll be entitled to his $190,000 a year pension as well as drawing the equivalent daily rate as a full time Supremo ($320,000 pa).

We asked Spiggsy Spigelman about Sackville’s (pic) forthcoming appointment and he told us, “no comment”.

We also asked the Federal Court what was going on and a court spokesman replied that he had been asked to tell us: “It is very kind of you to inquire about the judge’s post retirement plans.”

Given the expressed coyness, it seems as though our lowdown on this might be good.

Of course, the trail from Federal Court to acting Supremo was blazed by Ian Sheppard and Jane Mathews.

Roger Gyles also will be leaving the Federal Court in a few weeks and Peter Heerey and Brian Tamberlin follow next February/March.

Quite a bit more judicial appointing lies ahead for the Ruddites.

Then there’s the Kirbster in March and if Robert French goes to the High Court another hole has to be filled.

While on Federal Court matters we should note that CJ Michael Black will be back at the factory quite soon after some tweaking of his heart values and the settling of an unwanted twitch.

* * *

And what of the Kirbster?

My sources tell me he has let the government know that he would be quite happy to get the hell out of the High Court before his 70th on March 18.

The sticking point is the same sex superannuation amendments held up in the senate by the Nasty Party, i.e. sent to the legal and constitutional affairs committee for “review”.

Maybe that is why Margaret McMurdo sent a missive to Bruce Debelle urging the Judicial Conference of Australia to do everything it can to ensure the Bill is passed, “as soon as possible and certainly prior to Justice Kirby’s pending retirement”.

If the legislation is passed so that Johan can be a beneficiary of the judicial pension then do not be surprised to see Kirbs bail early.

You should have heard Senator Soapy Brandis, the shadow attorney general, trying to cover all bases on this topic when recently being interviewed on a gay & lesbian radio show.

Soapy declared he supports the Same Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws – Superannuation) Bill 2008, but he also supports it being delayed …

“because there are are many people in the community that do have a concern that legislation like this will erode the status of marriage.”

Further, “those people are entitled to the expression of their views as well”.

Justice David Harper told us: “The JCA fully supports the sentiments of Justice McMurdo.”

We’re just not certain about Soapy.

* * *

According to the annual review of the NSW District Court, Judicial Registrar Catherine McDonald rejoices in the middle name “Admonisha”.

So many responses rush to mind: misprint … appropriate … weird … what was her mother thinking?

* * *

Much ado in Van Diemen’s Land, where strange happenings are not infrequent.

First up, the new Chief Justice, Ewan Crawford, reminds us that he is a no-wigs sort of guy:

“Personally I feel they’re out of date and unnecessary to maintain the dignity of court and the solemnity of the occasion.”

This follows last month’s abolition of Taswegian judges togging up in big-wigs and red robes for criminal trials and for appeals.

Crawfo would like to see an end to the judicial hairpiece for all criminal hearings.

“I would personally prefer the short wigs to go but I respect the majority view on that.”

imageThe short wig idea obviously didn’t catch-on with VDL’s new solicitor general, Leigh Sealy, who flew to Melbourne to attend Peter Vickery’s swearing in as one of the new VicSupremes.

There’s Leigh (pic) looking like Sir Redmond Barry, while all others were sporting their little wigs.

What must the attorney general think? Already he believes Sealy is a frequenter of ladies lavatories.

Now fresh trouble has emerged after an article in last Friday’s Mercury claimed:

“Police are investigating an explosive new allegation of corruption at the highest levels of tasmanian political and legal circles”.

It got more exciting with each successive paragraph.

  • The investigation centres on allegations that the Burst Sav’s government “promised a senior legal appointment to an eminent person in return for certain favours”.
  • Police are investigating the “top echelons of Tasmania’s political, legal and public spheres”.
  • Names cannot be named but the sensitive investigation is an “open secret in top government circles”.
  • The investigation springs from allegations in a statutory declaration from Nigel Burch, a former adviser to Steve Kons, the ex-attorney general and ex-deputy premier.

    Burch was sacked after sending a letter to the Burst Sav criticising the way Lennon government appointments were being made without proper process being observed.

    The appropriately named Kons resigned in April after being caught lying to parliament over the Coopergate affair.

    The following Monday (July 7) things got hotter. The Mercury reported:

    “Leading Hobart lawyer Stephen Estcourt has declined to be interviewed by police in relation to a new allegation of corruption involving the highest echelons of Tasmania’s political and legal circles.”

    imageEstcourt (pic) had apparently outed himself as the eminent person in the eye of the storm.

    Next day the newspaper changed tack:

    “The prominent Tasmanian lawyer at the centre of a new police investigation into alleged government corruption, Stephen Estcourt, did not decline to be interviewed by Tasmanian police detectives.”


    Furthermore, Estcourt said that the allegation he was promised a top legal job by the government in return for favours was “false”.

    He added that he would provide police with details about what “the current solicitor general told me of the circumstances leading to his appointment”.

    Thereafter everything faded to black and the story disappeared from all screens. The mystery remains – although to make improper allegations about Estcourt or Sealy does not seem like a wise thing to do and The Mercury might be asked to cough-up.

    I hope all this drama has nothing to do with Sealy’s wig.

    * * *

    imageI hear that celebrity prostitute Marie Christos (pic) is writing a book on the Marcus Einfeld affair.

    Christos sprang to prominence after rifling through the garbage bin of Einfeld’s former solicitor, Michael Ryan, and finding drafts of The Mensch’s statutory declarations.

    She knows just about every crease and crevice of the Einfeld saga and, as her night time bin raiding shows, she’s a dogged researcher.

    Her tome promises to be a sizzler.

    Justinian’s anonymous news tips feature