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24 August, 2006  
Goings on ...

The Mensch, the solicitor, the $500 a pop hooker and the documents … Tasmanian judge lost in tropics … Cunneen verdict from Bureau de Spank ... The file has vanished – handy new defence in misconduct cases … Latest from Libel-Land: Sunday too far away and Hore-Lacy needs a judge

More unmenschionable happenings.

The Sydney Morning Herald tracked down the hooker who fished some draft statements out of the home garbage bin of Marcus “The Mensch” Einfeld’s solicitor, Michael Ryan of McClellands.

imageMirka Christos, also known as Marie (seen here), is said to have done a bit of hooking at a Balgowlah brothel. She claimed to have met Ryan at the knock-shop in July 2000 and that he continued to pay for her sexual services. The figure of “up to $500 for sex” was mentioned.

The garbage retrieval showed that The Mensch’s public statement of August 9 was redrafted to delete any reference to the gender of the speedster behind the wheel of his racy Lexus.

The Original Version said:

“The fact is that I lent my car to an old acquaintance from overseas so that transport would be available to her whilst I was away. I do not know whether she allowed anyone else to drive my car but it was returned to my home before I returned.”

The Final Version said:

“I am uncertain as to who was driving the car at the time but I did authorise an old acquaintance to use it while I was out of town.”

I agree, the situation called for something shorter and vaguer, particularly as the various females he was fingering all had the habit of dropping dead. It’s now emerged that The Mensch has used the “someone-else-was-driving” excuse on at least two previous occasions to get off traffic offences.

Another important change was the deletion from the final version of the gag-inducing flourish: “I am protecting no one, not even myself.”

The Australian followed up the Mirka story the following day, and it is here that important differences emerge.

The Daily Rupert described Mirka as a “spurned prostitute”.

“She said she became involved in the Einfeld affair during the bitter break-up of her six year relationship with Mr Ryan.”

It went on to say that the relationship started soon after Ms Christos left a secretarial position “with a top Sydney silk”.

“To seek retribution against Mr Ryan after they broke up, Ms Christos said she rifled through his garbage looking for information to use against him.”

The Sydney Morning Herald’s understanding of the Michael-Mirka relationship was entirely different. It quoted Mirka imageas saying matter-of-factly:

“Essentially, Einfeld got caught in the crossfire between Michael Ryan and myself. I’ve been trying to get rid of Michael for a few years and he won’t budge.”

The SMH added:

“Six years on, she said she was ‘pretty tired’ of Mr Ryan’s continuing attention.”

So how spurned was she? This is as big a riddle as the speedster behind The Mensch’s wheel.

Why would she be getting into his garbage if she wanted Ryan out of her life? Mirka (Marie) gave further elaborate explanations to The Smellograph today (Thursday, Aug 24).

She said that she and Michael had a special bond but she went through his bins occasionally, just to make sure.

Right now, while Mirka seems to be having the time of her life, Michael is curled-up in a ball with the phone off the hook, quietly screaming.

* * *

Much to report from the Apple Isle.

imageTo start with Hobart is rarely above 13 degrees at the moment with everyone wearing icy looks and horrible blizzard clothing. The work is just as grim, the lawyers are depressed and the clients tawdry.

Then there’s Justice Pierre Slicer (seen here) who, as winter started to set in, shot off to Samoa to help out at the local Supreme Court. Apparently the work has detained him longer than expected and Hollywood Pete Underwood CJ has had trouble obtaining a clear indication of when he’s to return.

The discontent about the extra pressure his absence has placed on the judges back home is made worse by thoughts of him sitting on the balcony at Aggie Grey’s Hotel and Bungalows being served umbrella adorned cocktails by dusky maidens.

You’ll see that Aggie’s rustles-up images of Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific and Somerset Maugham, Gauguin and Robert Louis Stevenson in its blub.

Back in Hobart they’re livid.

* * *

There’s also been unhappiness at the Family Law Practitioners Association of Tasmania – a stout little body whose membership hovers around 35.

At the recent annual general meeting three members stood for president: former Lismore barrister Paul Mason, legal aid counsel Pat Fitzgerald and Michael Foster from PWB Lawyers.

Incidentally, PWB Lawyers is the outfit that has risen Phoenix-like from the badly burned Piggott Wood & Baker, which got caught in a mortgage fund fire.

Some might think that regional parochialism plays a disproportionately important role in Tasmania. Fitzgerald originally came from the north, north-west of the state, and so northern and north-western members were extremely wary of him.

imageMason was a rank outsider coming from somewhere as languid and warm as Lismore.

Which left Foster (pic), who was duly elected. The trouble was that he was not supported by a significant chunk of the members, including the leader of the family law bar, failed Liberal candidate Fabian Dixon SC. The anti-Foster brigade failed to grasp the possibility that Fitzgerald and Mason might split the vote resulting in an “upset”.

About 20 members, including Dixon, threatened to resign from the association if Foster didn’t go into the library and shoot himself. He hung on – maybe the thought of occupying a seat at the Law Council was too dazzling a bauble to surrender.

Twice members put up requisitions for special general meetings to debate the matter and on both occasions signatories were found to be unfinancial.

By the end of July the pressure had become so intolerable that Foster buckled after five financial signatories were rustled-up for a requisition. As Foster said:

“I am not prepared to see the association used as a public platform for personal agendas and I will not facilitate a process which will diminish it’s (sic) reputation as a serious representative body and also distract the association from its important work of representing the family law profession in Tasmania. The association’s interests are more important than my own.”

Sniff, sniff.

* * *

imageSteve Mark, the NSW Legal Services Commissioner, finally has determined the complaint made about Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen (pic) by celebrity Sydney solicitor C. Murphy and that recently departed adornment of the profession, J. Marsden.

Stevie Wonder ruled that a disciplinary tribunal might find a ground of unprofessional conduct, but he did not propose to take the matter any further.

The complaint arose from Cunneen’s 2005 Ninian Stephen lecture at the University of Newcastle.

You can read our report on the complaints here and the speech itself is here.

Marsden’s complaint seemed to be no more than a general froth on Cunneen’s critical observations about some defence lawyers. Murphy was grizzling because Cunneen commented about one of his clients who was facing a retrial for rape. He said:

“The extent of media coverage of Ms Cunneen’s remarks about issues in the re-trial seriously puts in jeopardy the ability of [my client] to receive a fair trial. There is significant risk that a future jury will have read the media reports and be influenced by the personal views of Ms Cunneen about [my client’s] current matter.”

You might think that is a mite extravagant, considering that the prosecutor simply recounted the factual background as to what happened at “MG’s” trial and the appeal. The accused’s identity was not revealed and the matters she talked about were all on the public record. It was highly improbably that any juror would be prejudiced, particularly as the retrial is not scheduled till November, about a year after the Newcastle lecture.

Really, these complaints should have been thrown straight in the bin. As an indication of how much weight should be given to Mark’s weird determination I predict that this is the year that the Grill will bestow on Cunneen a coveted nylon gown.

* * *

Speaking of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner, I have correspondence in my hand from a disgruntled customer of a Sydney solicitor.

The complaint was that the customer was billed and paid for services he didn’t receive, namely filing for his divorce. The client claimed that as a consequence of the solicitor’s neglect he was required to fork-out hundreds of thousands of dollars more to his ex-wife than otherwise would have been the case.

He was so grumpy about it that he turned to Steve’s Bureau de Spank for relief. Two year’s later the Bureau is saying that it can’t do anything about the complaint because the solicitor has lost the file.

This seems rather odd because the client has all the documents necessary to make an assessment of the complaint, plus he has all the electronic copies of exchanges with his solicitor on his computer.

The community relations department of the Attorney General’s Department explained that the reason it has taken so long to “finalise” the matter is because the “OLSC considered it necessary to examine the relevant solicitor’s file to properly consider [the] complaint”.

Not only had the solicitor’s physical file vanished but conveniently he had no electronic records that might allow the file to be reconstructed.

“Unfortunately, without the file there is nothing the OLSC can do to obtain a more detailed reply…”

This is an important breakthrough. As soon as the whiff of a complaint comes through the door the file should dissolve and the hard drive given a bit of a scrub. It’s foolproof.

* * *

Accusations of “manipulation” fill the air.

imageJustice Paddy Bergin has allowed Nicholas “Beetroot” Whitlam to put his paw in the NRMA cookie jar. Now he can sue Channel Nine for defamation over the story on Sunday about the old boardroom brawls at the motorist and insurance outfit. The judge said:

“I am satisfied, on balance, the allegations made against the plaintiff [Beetroot] in the broadcast arose directly out of the performance of his duties, that is, his authorised interview with Nine. The defendant [NRMA Ltd] knew, or ought to have known, that Nine could, and indeed it was likely it would, manipulate the interview to suit the story that it wished to publish.”

That’s a pretty strong claim to make without hearing what Nine has to say. Beetroot himself has asserted as much before, telling a rapt gathering at the launch of his autobiography that the Sunday interviewer John Lyons substituted questions and answers.

Other organs have prematurely questioned whether Lyons should keep his Walkley award for the story, if Nine’s defence fails.

The whole thing is very nasty. Whitlam claims to have strong advice from a brace of silk that he’s been defamed – how unusual. But does it come as any surprise that all investigative journalism and feature writing involves variants of manipulation? It’s called editing, which is perfectly legitimate. The important thing is whether the meaning has been deliberately twisted and whether the program is defensible.

Some of that can easily be tested by comparing the master tape of the interview with the tape that went to air. The stuff that was broadcast showed Whitlam handling himself pretty comfortably, slapping critical assertions down as “scurrilous” and demanding to know Lyons’ sources.

There was one bit where the NRMA czar looked wobbly – the claim that the NRMA had hired Corrs as its lawyers, the same firm that handled Whitlam’s private work.

Whitlam said the engagement of Corrs was the result of a tender. Lyons contradicted him.

Whitlam: “I’m sure the proper processes were observed.”

All I can say is that this freshly energised defamation action against Nine for something that went to air over five years ago is far from a certainty for the plaintiff. And if he loses he has to give the NRMA’s funding back. It’s too horrible to contemplate.

* * *

imageWhile in this territory, Friday (Aug 18) saw another preliminary round before Bongiorno of the Vic Supremes in the case of Dyson Hore-Lacy SC (right) v Phil Clearly and Allen & Unwin, over publication of the book, Getting Away With Murder: The Story of Julie Ramage’s Death.

Hore-Lacy claims that the book says he fabricated a defence for James Ramage, which enabled him to escape conviction for the murder of his wife.

A handsome grovel from the printer Macpherson’s was read out in court:

“The third defendant accepts that there was no basis for such allegation, or for any allegation that Mr Hore-Lacy had engaged in any criminal or improper or unethical conduct in connection with the events following Mrs Ramage’s tragic death.”

The author and publisher are batting on. The plaintiff’s legal team (J. Sher and L. Maher – victors in Magistrate Popovic’s stoush with Murdoch shrill A. Bolt) have encountered problems in getting a judge to deal with pre-trial matters, such as the application to strike out the defence of comment.

If that application were to be successful the only remaining defence would be a denial that the book was defamatory of the famous silken one.

The Bonge referred to pressures on the court making it difficult to accommodate the parties. Quite so. What is also true is that the Supremes have found it difficult to rustle-up a judge who is not embarrassed by knowing either the plaintiff or Cleary, the former federal MP.

Following the stabbing death of his sister Cleary has been campaigning against the defence of provocation in murder trials.

The Age journalist Karen Kissane has written a wonderful book about the Ramage case, called Silent Death, published by Hodder. She suggests the provocation arose immediately after Julie Ramage made some less than complimentary remarks about her husband’s sexual performance.

Anyway, everyone agrees that it would be far better to give all the interlocutory matters a good rinsing before the trial on October 31. If only there was certainty of a judge.


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: August 28, 2006, 12:45 pm

Some years ago Marcus Einfeld sat in the ACT Supreme Court as a "visiting judge" (as Federal Court judges do from time to time when numbers get a bit low)in an armed robbery trial. Evidence was led by the defence of an alibi for the accused which proved to be a bit rubbery and the then Justice Einfeld was OUTRAGED. He made sure the miscreants (2 poor little junkies whose evidence didn't amount to much anyway) were charged with perjury whereupon he sent them off to gaol for 9 months. Criminal lawyers will know that perjury charges and convictions are as rare as hen's teeth. Just thought I'd mention it. The Defence Counsel.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: August 31, 2006, 11:43 am

Someone (probably Winston) should take Einfield's spade away from him. He should be told to sit in the corner and to say and do nothing.