It’s not often that retired judges get much of a sendoff when they peg out. Invariably, a few grizzled legal types wince at the thought they may be next as they read death notices in the bar newsletter. Not so for David Levine, a man with one of the largest private libraries and book collections in the country. His departure was met with a genuine outpouring of affection from lawyers, arts administrators and literary figures. By Richard Ackland.

The inking person’s judge

It’s not often that retired judges get much of a sendoff when they peg out. Invariably, a few grizzled legal types wince at the thought they may be next as they read death notices in the bar newsletter.

Not so for David Levine, a man with one of the largest private libraries and book collections in the country. His departure was met with a genuine outpouring of affection from lawyers, arts administrators and literary figures.

Levine was the New South Wales Supreme Court’s defamation judge with the solemn duty to dish out scads of media moguls’ money to hard-done-by plaintiffs.

On one occasion the judge lamented: “Fortnight after fortnight I have to deal with arguments concerning whether a pleaded imputation is proper in form and is capable of arising from the relevant publication. The vocabulary of the defamation list now includes words used with increasing frequency: ‘Jesuitical’, ‘casuistry’, ‘weasel words’ and the best of all, ‘epexegetical’.”

Richard Coleman was Fairfax’s night lawyer for almost 25 years, and he recalls The Australian Financial Review did a story about Levine with information that the scales of justice had been tattooed on the judge’s behind.

The inking had been done at a Byron Bay parlour, when the judge was on circuit. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The information about the tattoo came from Coleman himself, but no sooner had it been published than a letter arrived on Supreme Court stationery:

“I deny absolutely that I have a ‘scales of justice’ tattoo bravely sported on my buttocks. It is bravely, and indeed proudly, sported elsewhere. It is not for me, however, to disclose that it is a discreet and tasteful adornment barely seen behind my left shoulder.”

A bum steer from the paper’s lawyer.

Fordham focus

2GB’s Ben Fordham is over the moon as he steps into the Parrot’s tiny, yet smelly, shoes.

Young Fordham, whose father, John, assisted “Tonsils” Laws with his “cash for comment” contracts, is described as a “journalist”. This paper editorialised last week that if you could imagine 2GB as a crime family, Fordham “would be adopted as a favour to his parents”.

The “journalist” tag needs further exposition. Twelve years ago the Parrot’s successor was a reporter on Channel Nine’s A Current Affair, where only the juiciest morsels are aired. One of his entertaining scoops was to pose as a hitman and secretly record a conversation with Jim Markham, the former mayor of Waverley.

Markham wanted Fordham to torture and murder a rent boy known as “Aalex” and it was the mayor’s nephew who, as the source for this gem of a story, led Fordham and his producer Andrew Byrne into the sting.

Markham was duly recorded in a Channel Nine car fitted out with hidden cameras and listening devices, excerpts of which were broadcast on A Current Affair. Needless to say, cash was shelled out to various participants and Fordham even took the source’s wife to Coles to buy groceries.

Ultimately, Fordham and Byrne were found guilty of breaches of the Listening Devices Act, which prohibits the communication of secretly recorded private conversations without consent. However, they were spared punishment because Justice Elizabeth Fullerton found that the defendants had been wrongly advised by Nine’s lawyer at the time, Mark O’Brien.

He told ACA that broadcasting a program that featured secretly recorded conversations “was unlikely to constitute a breach of that act” – advice that Justice Fullerton found “frankly astounding”. The judge added that the two “journalists” exhibited “an appalling lack of judgement”.

Stay tuned for brekky with the “New Jones”.

Ancient gains

A dinosaur known as an elaphrosaur has been identified by palaeontologists from a bone discovered on the coastline of western Victoria.

The Cretaceous theropod roamed about 110 million years during the Ice Age when Australia was part of Antarctica. It had a small head and short arms with four fingers. It survived in a period when there were long periods of darkness, munching on plant life.

The Hobart Mercury said the creature has been named Eric the Elaphrosaur, and Tasmanians are wondering if it could have a direct descendant still roaming the region today.

Commission omissions

Meanwhile, citizens in Western Australia are stunned and perplexed that a cross-party parliamentary committee failed to endorse the reappointment of John McKechnie as the head of the state’s Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC).

McKechnie has led the CCC for the past five years, after stints as the state’s director of public prosecutions and as a Supreme Court judge. At the CCC, he headed up an investigation into Phil Edman, a former Liberal upper houser who allegedly used his electoral allowance on visits to a strip club, interstate trips and paying for the upkeep of his yacht.

The Edman inquiry sparked a furious contretemps over parliamentary privilege and access to the MLC’s laptop computer.

Premier Mark McGowan described the decision to block McKechnie as “outrageous” and “verging on corrupt”.

McGowan and his attorney-general, John Quigley, accused committee member Jim Chown, a Liberal, of voting against the McKechnie reappointment because of the Edman probe.

That is “unfounded speculation”, chirped Margaret Quirk, the chair of the committee.

The government has introduced legislation to bypass the standing committee, but the Liberals say they won’t support it, without telling anyone why.

McKechnie says he will probably go off “to grow begonias, whatever they are”.

In NSW, meanwhile, the Aunty Gladys Liberal regime is brazenly starving the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption of the money needed to do its work. Legal advice has been given by Bret Walker, SC, George Pell’s get-out-of-jail card, that the current anti-corruption funding arrangements are “undesirable” and “unlawful”.

International plights

An independent plague investigation is not the only thing about which Australia has received “warnings” from the Chinese government.

We have also been “warned” not to intervene in the case of Yang Hengjun, an Australian detained in China accused of spying. He’s been without access to lawyers or his family.

Our Foreign minister, Marise Payne, managed to blurt out that the conditions under which Dr Yang is being held are “harsh”. This prompted a slapdown from China’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang, who said in one of the more amusing statements of the times: “China deplores the Australian statement on this case. I would like to reiterate that China is a country with rule of law.”

Then there’s Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the Melbourne University academic, banged up in Tehran’s Evin prison for anything between 13 months and 10 years – depending on how Iranian sentencing procedure is interpreted. She’s another Australian spy, apparently.

Foreign Affairs people in Canberra say her case is one of its highest priorities, and she has the member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, in her corner. In early March, Dave urged citizens to “do everything we can to let Dr Moore-Gilbert and her family know that we will not abandon her, that we will not forget her and that we will advocate ceaselessly on her behalf to secure her release”.

That was after word had leaked out that she was feeling “abandoned and forgotten”. The MP said Moore-Gilbert’s case deserved more support than that of Julian Assange, because the WikiLeaks founder had lawyers and Dave had faith in the British system of justice.

Then there’s Australian national Joseph Sarlak, who has been stuck in Qatar since 2016. He has come onto the radar of the indefatigable Radha Stirling, who campaigns on behalf of Westerners detained in the “justice” systems of Gulf states.

The story is that Sarlak was tied up with a business partner who belonged to part of Qatar’s ruling tribe. He was subsequently acquitted of embezzlement charges but his deportation back to Australia has been the subject of a bureaucratic nightmare, largely because his ID has expired.

Stirling claims the “Australian embassy has been woefully unhelpful. Such slight intervention is needed from them to easily resolve this issue ...”

So we’re not having much success in prising citizens out of the jaws of nasty regimes and Kafkaesque legal systems.

So much for little Oz punching above its weight.

Too many crooks

An engaging little book has caught Gadfly’s eye. In How to Feed a Dictator Witold Szablowski interviews the chefs for Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro and Pol Pot.

It’s amazing that the food these brutes tucked into was so prosaic. Castro was a fan of ice-cream and eels, Pol Pot liked papaya salad with peanuts and fish sauce, while Saddam did a lot of barbecuing with Tabasco splashed over everything.

Amin, it seems, just wanted to be well fed, after a frantic day of slaughtering. Milton Obote, who came both before and after Amin in Uganda, preferred Western food, oxtail soup and T-bone steak.

Hoxha, the despot of Albania, was so paranoid that ingredients for his meals were sourced from “friendly farms”, inspected by his special agents. In 2018, The Guardian reported that the Pussy Grabber likes McDonald’s because it is pre-made and less prone to poisoning.

Hoxha’s chef said: “Just think what sorts of terrible decisions you would make if you were hungry and in a terrible mood all the time.”

Which makes you think what happens to the brain of the “leader” of the free world if he is sustained by a diet of McDonald’s, KFC, Freedom Fries and Diet Coke?

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 23, 2020 as "Gadfly: The inking person’s judge".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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