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25 November, 2008  
Goings on ...

Did Gordon Wood act on Rivkin’s orders? ... Action at bar AGMs in NSW and Tas ... An ashen faced loner sighted in Phillip Street … A move into lampshades for former prisons minister … Sub-prime pings Legal Practitioners Liability Committee … The Oz legal section shrinking fast

Worry beads

imageGordon Wood goes down. He’s banged up at Parklea awaiting sentence on Thursday (Nov. 27) following the jury’s guilty verdict last Friday (Nov. 21).

Gordy is the latest desperate over-reacher to be burnt by the Offset Alpine arson and associated share scam.

There is a cast of colourful Sydney identities who, in one way or another, have been touched by the torching of the print shop. They include:

  • Rene Rivkin, a convicted share rorter, the main shareholder in Offset Alpine, who topped himself in 2005.
  • Rodney Adler whose FAI (F**k All Insurance) insured the plant and equipment and who participated in some handy Offset Alpine profits. Adler did time for frauds upon HIH.
  • Graham Richardson, a professional deal doer and fixer, who has just coughed-up to the ATO following Rivkin’s revelations to Swiss gnomes that the former ALP beefcake owned seven percent of Offset Alpine. In a character reference in the Qantas insider trading case Richo described Rene as a person of the “highest character”.
  • Trevor Kennedy, a humble reptile from Albany, who thrust his way to the senior ranks of King Kerry’s court of toadies, who owned 12 percent of Offset Alpine. He continues to fight ASIC and ATO investigations. Kennedy said in his character reference for Rivkin that the old rorter was “absolutely scrupulous [and] frankly, we should have more people like Rene in the business community”.

    Other “personalities” as alluring as Bill Hayden and Ray Martin also got set in the stock.

    imageOne witness at Wood’s murder trial said that the former chauffeur and masseur had told him to buy $500,000 worth of Offset Alpine shares. “It’s fixed and there are government people involved.”

    The crown said the motive for Caroline Byrne’s murder was that she knew too much about the rigging of this stock and about Rivkin’s sexual preferences. That also makes Caroline an unfortunate victim of this “Jewish Lightening” strike.

    A pack of young spivs and graspers danced to Rivkin’s tune, as obedient fools in his tragic court. Gordon Wood was one of these.

    The Sydney Morning Herald brought us news that a male prostitute was paid $1,500 to have sex with another man on a luxury boat moored at Double Bay while Rivkin watched the frottage.

    During the trial Justice Graham Barr was dismissive of the crown’s theory that Rivkin didn’t want Caroline Byrne to blab.

    Yet the dots aren’t difficult to join. There’s more than enough stuff around to support the case that a porcine, depressed Rivkin gave Wood instructions to silence the risk.

    Quite possibly he gave that order while fiddling with his worry beads and watching the two blokes going at it hammer and tongs on his tasteful gin palace.

    Just about anything and everything is possible with this story.

    Nothing happened

    imageIn the end, despite outbursts of dissatisfaction, 2008’s reigning mandarins at the NSW bar ‘n’ grill will remain in charge throughout 2009.

    2008 has seen some notable highlights: contentious new rules seeking to curb bully barristers, a $750,000 loss representing about 15 percent of members’ funds, practising certificate fee increases of up to 22 percent, the resignation of the treasurer Justin Gleeson over a spat with prez Anna Katzmann, and ongoing dissatisfaction about silk selection.

    Things could have been worse. The Victorians tipped out their prez and installed a new executive. Unlike the Obama message, “fear of change” seems to be the motto of Vic’s new-old guard that has got its collective backsides on the leather.

    When it came to the crunch at the NSW bar’s AGM on November 14, nothing happened.

    The lead signature on the four motions that circulated, Brian Rayment, told the meeting that in no way was the document meant to be critical of the president.

    In the end none of the motions got up: one year terms, a softly-softly disciplinary approach and more PR.

    For a moment the prospect of leaping backwards seems so exciting.

    Hold the dancing girls

    On Remembrance Day, three days before the bar’s AGM, Anna Katzmann crossed the river and paid a visit to the St George and Sutherland Law Society’s annual feast.

    She approached the occasion with trepidation as she had been seen making a hasty exit from the previous solicitors’ dinner she attended, hosted by the NSW Law Society at Luna Park’s Crystal Ballroom.

    That night was not her cup of tea, as she told the assembled proctors, notaries and attorneys of the southern shire:

    “The last Law Society function I attended was characterised by scantily clad women gyrating lasciviously to popular classics or, in one case, wiggling her over-abundant body under hula-hoops.

    “I did not stay around for the third act – the Curvettes – which, I gather, involved less arse and more tit.

    “The so-called golden oldies – solicitors with 50 years of practice up their sleeves – at least the male ones (yes I think there was one woman) thought they had died and gone to heaven.”

    She felt as though she had been swept into a tardis and carried back to the 1970s, “when Barry McKenzie represented the archetypal male”.

    Rotten apple

    I hear there was plenty of distraction to be had at the AGM of the Van Diemen’s Land bar ‘n’ grill.

    Economics and law graduate (hons, 1st) Andy Abbott came up with a couple of motions, along the lines:

  • The independent bar of Tassie should withdraw from the pinko Law Council of Australia.
  • The bar should introduce a new protocol for the appointment of SCs, aka the Recognised Specialist Counsel protocol. The requirement for appointment is at least a first class hons degree in law (which is the attainment of the mover of the motion).

    imageBoth brave and sensible proposals were defeated on the floor, with Abbo voting against the first motion himself.

    As one of the members said the second motion was a good idea because it would stop “dumb c***ts” becoming silks.

    In further Apple Isle developments, former premier Paul (The Burst Sav) Lennon (seen here) has been savaging the DPP Tim Ellis.

    The Sav appeared before a parliamentary committee inquiring into government jobs-for-favours.

    He reckoned that Ellis was more interested in betting on who would be solicitor general than in investigating allegations surrounding the appointment.

    He said that the DPP had $5 on Stephen Estcourt getting the gig, adding that he was “angered and dismayed” by the wager.

    What, that it was only $5?

    The former premier was even more angered and dismayed that the suspended chief copper Jack Johnson has been charged by Ellis with disclosing official secrets.

    The Johnson case has inflamed passions, particularly the way his arrest was handled.

    Hobart solicitor Peter Barker fired off a letter to The Mercurial which commenced:

    “When poor old auntie Flo takes to drinking the perfume testers in a department store and gets done for shoplifting is she going to have to separate her buttocks for inspection by the authorities?”

    It got better and you can read the full epistle here.

    Yesterday’s man

    It was election day and a few barristers had been watching Barry Obama cross the line so magnificently on a big screen courtesy of the US consul at the Intercontinental in Sydney.

    Walking back to the Boulevard of Broken Dreams with broad grins, filled with pleasure at the dawn of a new world and the cleansing of the Augean stables, who do they see crushed in a dark corner of Silks cafe?

    It was the hardened, saturnine, bloodless visage of someone shadowy, yet familiar. Maybe it was the glint of an Amnesty badge that gave him away.

    Why, it was a forlorn Philip Ruddock. Alone with a glass of water.

    Syndrome news

    Justice Elizabeth (Hands On Heads) Fullerton has been presiding over Gregory v State of New South Wales.

    Peter Gregory is suing the state claiming he was bullied at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School in Tamworth, northern NSW.

    On November 13 most of the day was taken up with evidence from the plaintiff’s psychiatrist, Dr Michael Diamond.

    He touched upon the condition known as Narcissistic Syndrome, which prompted the judge to say, words to the effect:

    “Yes, I understand Narcissistic Syndrome – not that I have it – but I have encountered it in the course of my professional life.”

    The bar table fell quiet.

    Any old iron?

    I discover that the former NSW minister for prisons and big Malcolm Turnbull backer, Michael Yabsley, has had a fascinating career change.

    Yabbers is the brains behind the Wombat Hollow iron bed and lamp company. He explains:

    “Wombat Hollow lamps are unique creations made from carefully selected industrial and historical artefacts, bespoke shades and sympathetically adapted electrical fittings.”

    imageThe former minister gives new purpose to old oil cans, surveyors’ tripods, bits of disused metal and other “orphan artefacts”, mounting them with pleated silk, pig skin or porcupine quill shades.

    When Yabbers was the minister the lags doing porridge used to do turn out similar stuff in the rehabilitation workshops at Berrima and Lismore.

    Bonhams and Goodman have an exhibition of Wombat Hollow lamps this week.

    You’re bound to find a restored laundry wringer with an electric bulb stuck on top – just the thing for a Chrissie present.

    Reduced premiums, increased losses

    A horrible year for the Legal Practitioners Liability Committee, according to the 2008 annual report.

    The LPLC has had a busy business insuring not only Victorian solicitors, but most national law firms and, increasingly, barristers.

    It covers about 15,600 sollies and 1,600 briefs.

    But what a year. Net premiums slipped from $25.4 million last year to $24.5 million, claims incurred soared from $14 million in 2007 to $41 million in 2008, unexpired risk liability went from $93,000 to $7.7 million and the whole thing was capped with a turnaround from a profit of $32.8 million to a loss of $42.4 million.

    Total assets dropped from $210.8 million to $194.2 million, while liabilities went up from $93.4 million to $119.3 million over the year. There was a negative return on investments of -6.7 percent.

    Net cash from operating activities slid from $20.1 million to $8.1 million.

    Nonetheless, barristers continued to have a whale of a time. Between 2005 and 2008 there has been a 41 percent reduction in barristers’ premiums while cover went up to $2 million.

    As chairman Matt Walsh said:

    “The reporting year saw the tumultuous sub-prime crisis in the United States unfold, triggering major falls on stockmarkets around the world with corresponding losses in Australia. LPLC was not immune.”


    imageBeing attacked by Chris Merritt, The Australian’s legal affairs editor, puts me in mind of Denis Healey’s remark that to be attacked by Geoffrey Howe (pic), then Britain’s shadow chancellor, was “like being savaged by a dead sheep”.

    For the past two weeks the dead sheep has lashed out at his competitor, The Australian Financial Review’s legal affairs section.

    He complained about the way the AFR had characterised the election of the new VicBar chairman John Digby as being a “reverse takeover” of the bar by the big swinging dicks from Barristers Chambers Ltd, of which Digby is also deputy chairman.

    Merritt quoted Digby as insisting that his election as prez had nothing to do with “any issues about BCL”.

    “They are quite separate issues,” he said, and the legal affairs editor seemed to swallow that at face value. The Financial Review’s crime was that it didn’t accept it at face value.

    The chambers issue in Melbourne is fraught. In fact, just to hand is the spring issue of Victorian Bar News (see page eight) with a fabulous grovel to Stephen & Norman O’Bryan, both leading lights in the independent chambers movement.

    In an earlier letter to Vic Bar News (see page nine) Peter O’Callaghan accused the O’Bryans of “biting the hand that fed them” and hypocrisy.

    Now the editors of the organ are full of regrets.

    Last week (Nov. 21) Merritt also had a go at the Fin for reporting a story about possible redundancies at Mallesons and then reporting a denial from the firm.

    The correct procedure, according to Merritt’s little lecture, is not to report anything that is denied.

    The whole thing is too silly for words.

    But why this indignant outrage from Holt Street?

    Would it have anything to do with sensitivity over the fact that The Australian’s legal affairs section is shrinking before our eyes.

    For the past two weeks The Oz’s section has only attracted three small discounted legally related ads, compared to seven in the Fin.

    The Oz’s law pages are also down from three a week to two, while the AFR is publishing four or five.

    When The Daily Rupert launched the stand alone section in June 2007, editor Merritt promised “a minimum of three broadsheet pages each week, making it the most extensive and well-resourced legal section in the nation.”

    He might have added, “trust me, I’m a journalist”.


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: November 25, 2008, 6:40 pm

As far a G Wood is concerned, mindful of contempt laws and aware that he is yet to be sentenced, does it not strike anyone else as ever so slightly outrageous that we live in a society in which, at a murder trial no less, a self-important deportment teacher can be called to give the jury the benefit of her assessment that she did not like the cut of the defendant's jib and therefore took notes of all their conversations? Is Wood the first person convicted of the heinous offence of not appealing to the good side of Miss June Dally-Watkins?
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: November 25, 2008, 9:05 pm

Like Meursault, the protagonist in Camus's "L’Étranger," who is condemned to death for murder, essentially because at his trial it is revealed to the jury that he did not cry at his mother's funeral.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: November 26, 2008, 12:15 am

"Trust me, I'm a deportment queen..."