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City Desk
7 December, 2006  
The improper rissoling of Geoff Dunlevy

The NSW Law Society is in uproar over the removal of president-elect Geoff Dunlevy. He’s now off to court to challenge the putsch. So far the society has no explanation why Dunlevy is unsuitable to be president in 2007

imageMy own deeply personal view is that there were two factors why his lovely cobbers on the council of the NSW Law Society knifed Geoff Dunlevy, the incoming president:

1. The knifers want to run a gung-ho personal injury campaign at the March 2007 NSW elections, targeting marginal (Labor) seats.

2. There was a belief that the knifee might not be gung-ho enough because he is a member of the Labor Party and holds political ambitions of his own.

Anyway, the Law Society has not advanced a better explanation as to why the president-elect was rissoled out of being president for 2007.

That’s if he has been rissoled properly, because there’s quite a bit of legal advice that he remains senior vice-president of the society and therefore president for 2007.

The putsch against Dunlevy has all the finesse of Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s coup in Fiji – and is about as constitutional.

imageThe Law Society position is that Dunlevy (snap) is no longer on the executive line-up for next year and that he’s out of contention for the presidency. The 2006 president, Commodore June McPhie, will again be president in 2007. An unheard of back-to-back two years at the helm.

After all, it’s got to be more fun than whatever’s going on down on the McPhie farm at Cooma – and as they sang in World War 1, “How you gonna keep em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

Dunlevy sold his partnership in the Moree firm of Rhodes Kildea and was all set to move his family to Sydney to take up the presidency on an honorarium of $262,485 and residency at the society’s apartment in Macquarie Street, overlooking the Opera House.

(N.B. When Fred Herron from Lismore was president in 1984-5 he took a room at Oxford Street’s Koala Motor Inn in the middle of the pink mile.)

The advise Dunlevy has from Bret Walker and Shane Prince at the Bar n’ Grill is encouraging. Accordingly, he believes that he remains the incoming president of the Law Society, and will be president on January 1. He is now asking the Supreme Court to enforce his rights or alternatively award him damages.

The legal position is largely governed by clause 9.4 of the society’s articles of association. Clause 9.4.2 deals with the automatic progression of the senior vice-president to the position of president at the end of the calendar year. No further endorsement by the council or election is needed.

In April, Peter Johnstone resigned as senior vice-president to take up his new job as Hangin’ Judge Johnstone of the District Court. Geoff Dunlevy, the junior vice-president, was then appointed by the council to move up a notch.

The April 20 minutes of the council record the resolutions that appointed Dunlevy to fill Judge Johnstone’s casual vacancy as senior vice and that he will “assume the position of president of the Law Society of NSW effective from January 1, 2007”.

imageHowever, after the November council meeting of the society, a press release was issued that said:

“The following councillors were elected to the executive of the council for 2007.

Senior vice-president: Hugh Macken
Junior vice-president: Shauna Jarrett
Treasurer: Joe Catanzariti.

A further resolution of council appointed the incumbent president, Mrs June McPhie (snap), to fill the casual vacancy of president, created when the former president-elect, Peter Johnstone, was appointed to the District Court in May 2006.”

The only trouble is that there was no casual vacancy for the office of president. G. Dunlevy was the president-elect, and still is according to the Law Society’s own website.

The press release and purported November resolutions of the council really are of no effect. However, the council does have the power to remove any office bearer by a simple resolution – yet so far no such resolution has been proposed or passed to sack Dunlevy as senior vice-president.

And this from the people who are meant to be the spiritual inspiration and regulators of the profession.

We have to go back to the Macken affair, which first appeared in the papers on November 17 – a week before the new executive was appointed. Oddly there are two Mackens on the council – husband Hugh (now said to be senior V-P) and wife Mary, who is a solicitor at the State Transit Authority.

Sage types, who served on the council years ago, don’t think this is a good look. They would have been shaking their heads with even greater wonderment when they read that Mary forgot to renew her practising certificate this year and so her position on the council was vacated, retrospectively from July 1. Rather too neatly the council last month appointed her to fill her own casual vacancy.

The whole ghastly embarrassment was accompanied by a lot of tension and confusion on the council. Among other things Dunlevy was falsely accused by some of leaking the Macken story to the reptiles of the press.

Serious rumblings against the security of his position as president-elect can, more or less, be dated from this time.

On November 15 Dunlevy gave notice to the council that he would move a motion that it confirm he would take over as president on January 1, 2007.

At the November 22 meeting he circulated this four-page memorandum to the council detailing the work he had done on behalf of the society as senior vice and seeking its endorsement that he be confirmed as president for 2007.

He didn’t actually need such an endorsement and the fact that he didn’t get it was taken as a vote of no-confidence.

Immediate past-president John McIntyre and councillors Kim Cull and Pauline Write resigned in the wake of the Night of the Long Knives. Technically McIntyre can’t resign because an immediate past-president is an immediate past-president, and he’s lumbered with it.

On Monday (Dec. 4) a special council meeting was held where five stood for the two casual vacancies, resulting in Justin Dowd and Matt Laffan being elected.

Councillor Tony de Govrik sent a letter to Commodore McPhie complaining about the “stunt” of pulling on a special council meeting.

He said whole thing was “ridiculous” and urged the Commodore to step aside as president at the end of the year or face the “ignominy of you and your fellow office bearers being removed from office by members or being forced to resign by the ‘ill-informed press’ (as you put it)”.

This one has a way to play – doubtless many will stay tuned.


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