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8 June, 2007  
Goings on ...

Sir Gerry Brennan at centre of high-rise dog fight … Flare-up at bench v bar dinner in Sydney … Corrigan accuses union lawyers of “conniving” to select patsy judge … Turf warfare over the right to publicity … Horror stories from Cowderyland

imageFormer CJ of the High, Sir Gerry Brennan, is on the side of the victors in the great battle of the animals that absorbed and confounded the residents of his block of home units, Ranelagh in Sydney’s Darling Point.

QC Bernie Gross appeared in the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal for the various pussies and small hounds that kept the aged and the lonely company in the towering strata pile.

He was fighting a body corporate resolution that to some of the furry creatures strongly suggested they were no longer welcome in the building.

Sir Gerry was a spiritual leader of the animal abolitionists. He had come to that position after initially saying that animals are important to people who live on their own. Apparently, an altercation with a tiny canine in the lift turned him.

But what to do with the existing creatures is now the pressing issue. Are all the budgies, pythons and goldfish to be flushed down the Ranelagh toilets? Are special death squads to he hired?

It’s been a distressing time, particularly since most of the animals were better behaved and better looking than the human residents. Gross saddled up on behalf of the companionable beasts, but the CTTT was against him.

The old rule said animals were permitted if they got written permission from the board. The rule now says, no animal will be permitted at Ranelagh.

Already the small dogs have been served their eviction notices. The cats, like feline Anne Franks, are waiting for the midnight knock on the door.

Oh, Sir Gerry, how could you?

* * *

Sydney’s bench and bar dinner went off swimmingly, except for one moment of ugliness. I promised my source not to give names – so all I can say is a certain Supreme Court judge loomed into view and barrelled into a certain well-known barrister.

“You should pull your head in,” the advocate was told and then warned that, “should you appear in my court, I’ll be ready to wipe the floor with you”.

“You have a black mark from the judges and you should stay away from [certain] cases.”

It was charming stuff and left the counsel, not one usually to be unnerved, quite shaken.

In view of this, we’ll be keeping a bit of an eye on this bumptious judge.

* * *

imageIt’s amazing that Chris Corrigan’s (pic) accusation of lawyer-judge corruption passed into the ether with minimal fuss.

The former Patrick Stevedores boss was wheeled out in The Australian to write a piece about the ABC doco-drama Bastard Boys.

Needless to say, Corrigan didn’t enjoy the TV show. It was biased and beastly. In fact, he thinks it might have been put to air by the commissars at the broadcasting collective to assist Greg Combet’s move into a political career.

But it was his remarks about Justice Tony North of the Federal Court that left a weird taste in the mouth.

Corrigan said that North decided there “was an arguable case of discrimination [against a unionised workforce] and hence reasonable grounds to examine the unions allegation of conspiracy”.

He said that the allegation conspiracy (with the government) “is conveniently allowed to go down in folklaw as an undisputed fact,” but it was never proved. Corrigan believes the allegation was used as, “a device in a grubby piece of legal manoeuvring”.

He then points to what he claims to be another failure of Bastard Boys:

“There is no exploration of the legal conniving by the union’s legal team that went into the effective selection by them of North (who in a similar matter was the advocate for the pilots’ union against the Hawke government and Peter Abeles and lost that case) as the judge to hear their spurious assertions.”

The unions selected North for the case because he was some sort of patsy. That’s what Corrigan said.

imageThat toxic radio spruiker Alan Jones (pic) then picked up Corrigan’s line and give it a whirl.

Since neither of them provided further and better particulars of how this judge selection scheme works, the court should have slapped them both for contempt.

Instead, spokesman for the Federal Court, Bruce Phillips, had to write to the paper, saying:

“The implication that the system of allocating duty cases in the Federal Court is subject to manipulation by the parties is an egregious falsehood.”

Omitted by Corrigan & Co was the fact that North’s judgment on the union’s “spurious assertions” was upheld by the full Federal Court and then by six of seven High Court judges.

That’s a major piece of conniving.

* * *

Turf warfare has broken out once more between the upstart plaintiff lawyers’ lobby (Australian Lawyers Alliance) and the old guard lawyers’ lobby (Law Council of Australia).

It’s The Upstarts v The Establishment, and the issue is publicity.

To an upstart all publicity is good publicity, while established types want to control publicity so they can keep the upstarts down. This applies in all walks of life, not just the legal caper.

You can see it reflected in the LCA’s model rules of professional conduct and practice.

Go to paragraph 19 dealing with “integrity of hearings” (p.24) and there it says:

“A practitioner must not publish, or take steps towards the publication of, any material concerning current proceedings for which the practitioner is engaged, unless…”

There follows exceptions that provide for handing out pleadings, affidavits, witness statements, transcript, etc as long as they’ve appeared in open court and the permission of the instructing solicitor or client has been given.

However, when answering “unsolicited” questions from reptiles, practitioners are required to give answers “uncoloured by comment or unnecessary description”. No personal opinions can be expressed, let along the lawyer being identified as a lawyer.

This spin-free world is even meant to persist in cases where there is no prospect of a jury getting involved.

It’s all terribly spooky. The upstart lawyers spokesman, Ian Brown from Brisbane personal injury law shop Carter Capner, was upset. He told The Australian:

“We are going to be gagged from talking to you guys pretty much about anything.”

The establishment lawyers union replied saying the criticism from the upstarts is “exaggerated and unfounded”.

Tim Bugg from the LCA explained it pretty persuasively:

“We don’t resile from our current rules at all. They have been the product of extensive work by their originators.”

Translation: upstarts in the profession should be starved of oxygen.

* * *

Talking of The Australian I hear on the vine that it is to give one more big push to its legal affairs section. Timed to coincide with the end-of-financial-year law firm partnership advertising bonanza it is looking, again, at a you-beaut liftout legal section.

Also, Michael Pelly is to join Rupert’s sheet to write a law blog or blawg. Only moments ago Pelly was Fabulous Phil Ruddock’s spin doctor, so it should be a very good fit.

* * *

imageAlready assertions about unhappy working conditions at the NSW DPP are pouring in following claims published by Tulkinghorn and repeated in The Sydney Morning Herald that DPP Cowdery (pic) may have made life for his employees “too comfortable”, i.e. hardly any of them wanted to leave.

This was based on the DPP’s very low staff turnover rate of 0.4 percent compared with the Australian benchmark staff turnover rate of 15.16 percent.

One insider has emailed to insist that far from comfortable, the staff churn rate is horrendous:

“They pull in 24-weekers [contract staff] – extend them another six months or so, keep them on with acting promises (in many cases, I am told, unlawfully, i.e. beyond the NSW government’s IR laws) and then dump them on short notice.

“I know one woman solicitor who was here for three-and-a-half years ‘acting’, then ‘let go’ in the week leading up to Christmas. When she inquired whether she could have some leave over Christmas the answer was ‘actually your contract expires tomorrow’.

“As you know Conference Cowdery hasn’t been here enough to make anyone comfortable.”