Caesar’s Wife and the Modern Bench

judgeTucked away in the Herald Sun this past week was the tale of a reportedly tipsy magistrate alleged to have groped “a young woman’s buttocks” and told their owner after “a night of drinking” that he “loved her” . For an encore he is said to have further enlived the Christmas party by urging “a member of the public” to physically assault “a male staffer whom he described as a ‘c—‘.” While the incident immediately set tongues wagging throughout Melbourne’s legal precinct,where gossip is the currency of corridor discourse, it was not until a journalist brought the matter to the attention of Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen that an investigation was launched.

At this writing the matter is before the new Judicial Complaints Commission and the magistrate in question continues to dispense justice. For all we know, he might even have passed judgement on other accused bottom-fondlers. Once, in days now fading to memory, some might have invoked Caesar’s wife and suggested it would be prudent were the reveller with the reputed roving hands stood down until his name could be cleared, or something like that. Indeed, most would have seen such a step as the only course, lest the thought gain credence that the bench regards the appearance of propriety as being “for thee, not me.”

None of this surprised anybody who works within the courts or observes them at close quarters, a perspective that often leaves the impression of a system which believes it is a law unto itself. This is particularly so in regard to the courts’ escalating disdain for scrutiny.

Buried in the Magistrates’ Court media guidelines, for example, is an assertion unique in Australia, one usually found under dictatorships. When a reporter seeks an interview, those guidelines advise, “the Court will generally only consider a request of this nature if a copy of the article is sent to the judicial officer or person interviewed, for approval, prior to publication.” In other words, if you want to write about us we’ll decide what you can say.

Victoria’s Supreme Court recently tried to “accredit” journalists, backing off only after the union, the MEAA, pointed out the sheer lunacy of trying to control reporters when courtrooms remain open to any and all who care to sit in the public gallery. The County Court still thinks it can accredit journalists, a confidence at odds with media outfits’ decision to ignore what has so far proven an impotent edict.

While the courts are increasingly seeking to control those who sit in on their proceedings and how they are reported, the Supreme Court’s Justice Lex Lasry is more open in passing social-media verdicts on all manner of topics. Milo Yiannopolous was the target of a recent bon mot.

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Mr Lasry also retweeted a journalist’s description — now vanished from his feed — of a minor political party as the “Shooter, Fishers and Felchers Party”. Put the kids to bed before you google “felchers”. I’ll leave it to readers to ponder the probity of a judge re-broadcasting a gross obscenity directed at a registered political party, one that drew 56,536 upper-house votes at the 2014 state election and saw two candidates elected. Should the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party ever find itself in court, one guesses they would prefer to find a judge other than Mr Lasry in charge of proceedings.

Not long ago, when the ABC’s 4Corners was reheating a potted history of Clive Palmer’s adventures in politics, business and courtroom, Mr Lasry was moved to retweet the following from former radio man and dumped SMH columnist Mike Carlton.

“Why are so many of our mining magnates enormously fat?”

Justice Lasry relayed that question to his 3515 Twitter followers. Retweets aren’t endorsements, as almost everybody’s Twitter account declares, but neither is their propagation a repudiation. He has also twittered that he will never visit Bali until Indonesia’s death penalty is abolished, isn’t fond of duck hunters and doesn’t have much time for monarchists. Were a duck-hunting Balinese assemblyman in receipt of imperial honours ever to come before him, one wonders if the defendant might also be keen to request another judge.

There used to be an old gag about cloistered judges and their wonderment at the mysteries of modern life. “This Big Mac,” the crusty beak inquires, “who is he?” Some might say it’s a long bow, linking the presumed right to edit journalists’ work with a judge’s candid expression of opinion on the day’s events, not to mention the court system’s keeping in situ a magistrate under investigation for sexual harassment. What cannot be denied, however, is that none of this would have happened in the past, when judicial officers attended to their jobs, judges kept their non-legal opinions to themselves and the courts stuck to their onions.

When those boundaries and standards are thrown over, only the wigs, elevated benches, tipstaves and protocols will remain — not as trappings of august impartiality but as reminders of a dignity sacrificed on the altar of arrogance.

11 thoughts on “Caesar’s Wife and the Modern Bench

  • a.crooks@internode.on.net says:

    Love the article. I’m guessing you could write something similar about the Victorian Police. I’d like to see that too.

  • ianl says:

    I know PJ Murphy warned us but I could not resist looking for the definition of “felcher”.

    Now I can never unknow the result. If you haven’t looked yet, I implore you to resist the temptation. You really will be better off for it.

    That a Supreme Court Justice can tweet that publicly is beyond my experience. I cannot imagine why he thought it droll.

    • whitelaughter says:

      Have no intention of checking, well aware that the Deep Web is to be avoided at all costs.

      Because judges are unelected and cannot be dismissed, the position was always going to attract undesirables. This problem is going to be difficult to solve (the USA showing that election is not the solution). A minimum requirement of X years in the police force might have helped…before the destruction of our police forces. Now? No idea.

  • Jody says:

    Lasry is presumable of that elite coterie which dispenses obscenely light justice to the most heinous offenders, flicks away criticism with a sniff and seeks validation in a profession so removed from community expectations they might as well live on Mars. By Tweeting contemptuous comments about dissenters they align themselves still further to the decadent and corrupt excesses of Clever Green in “Rake” – a series created by a legal ‘insider’ who is himself a cocaine addict. Say no more, please, ladies and gentlemen.

  • exuberan says:

    Whenever I hear or read the name Lasry I will be instantly nauseated

  • lloveday says:

    “He has also twittered that he will never visit Bali until Indonesia’s death penalty is abolished”.
    His Bali visit has been delayed further with Indonesia’s extension of the death penalty to paedophiles. I eagerly await the ABC going into meltdown when the first Australian scumbag is executed, while my mates and I will have a celebratory glass or two.
    The last Australian convicted of paedophilia, Robert Elis, who claimed his crimes were “not a serious thing”, he “paid them generously” and “In all probability my young friends desperately want me returned to them.”, could not be sentenced to death as the law was not retrospective, but the judge gave him a record 15 years with the first 6 months in solitary. Solitary there means being put in a tiny cell without a toilet or bed and being let out 6 months later.

  • lloveday says:

    Quote: “For all we know, he might even have passed judgement on other accused bottom-fondlers”.
    We do know, almost certainly, that Michael Kirby was engaging in criminal homosexual acts while adjudicating other laws, albeit not in relation to homosexual acts.
    I will not offer an opinion as to whether the law was good, bad, or in between, but it is in my opinion clearly wrong for a judge to be engaged in criminal activities while adjudicating law, whether the same he is breaking or another.
    Kirby was not appointed to the NSW Appeals Court until 3 months after the decriminalisation of homosexual acts (when he became “openly gay”), but he was a Justice of the Federal Court prior to that 8/6/1984 decriminalisation in NSW (and for many years previously Deputy President of the ACAC). And who knows what he did on trips to other states (Tasmania did not decriminalise until 1997).
    In any case is a person who has knowingly, willingly and frequently broken criminal law a fit person to be made a judge?
    Even a friend of Kirby agreed with me that he should not have accepted judicial appointments while a practising criminal.

    • Peter Sandery says:

      Agree, completely, LBL and I could never understand why this was tolerated even back then. I am more astounded now as I further ponder on the issue and notice how the mantra – “but we are different” is being bandied about by those in power in all walks of life.

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