Courting double trouble in the Secret State

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It is time for Chief Justice Marilyn Warren to exercise her powers to look into the (Secret) State of Victoria’s (in)justice system, says contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence — who also questions why the media turns a blind eye.

Sydney Morning Herald and The Age — that once sailed along on their classifieds sections, described as 'rivers of gold' but which have since dried up through flaccid executive management incapable of generating or even exploring the required calculated and heroic risk-taking, challenges, the energy and joys of modern communications and Nouveau Age journalism.

The dismemberment of Fairfax has already started, with the farming out of sub editing duties to New Zealand and I empathise with and support those colleagues who protest

against this intolerable practice, now rife in instaprint churnalism and publishing.

But Gina Rinehart notwithstanding, The Age – like Independent Australia and media in general – is organic in form and a mine of information. As I often write, the true test of a newspaper (in this case) may be more easily measured by what is NOT published, rather than what is.

Par example, in Tuesday's edition of Independent Australia, in my article headlined 'Courting trouble' we published some inside and background information on Chris Vedelago's Sunday Age article on threats within the Courts, based on a report compiled by the Department of Justice.

The DOJ report seemed to only concentrate on threats made against Judges and Court practitioners.

From Tuesday's article:
Look closely at the shameless spin, double standard and hypocrisy of the DOJ reflected in The Age‘s article.

‘Government and court representatives have declined to comment on any specific threats received, whom they were directed against or what action has been taken in response, citing security concerns.”

‘A court spokeswoman said authorities were concerned that publicity about the issue could generate even more threats, likening the situation to the official silence that often surrounds the reporting of suicides.’

So what does the DOJ do? Pinpoint an ‘incident’ that is well and truly in the public domain — in what has become known as ‘The Matt Norman versus the National Australia Bank’ case.

However, the DOJ has the audacity to misrepresent the circumstances to favour the Judge and court practitioners.

The Age refers to

‘.. a menacing letter sent to the judge presiding over a home foreclosure case in the Supreme Court.

‘In January, a foreclosure-related hearing in the Supreme Court was disrupted when a justice received an anonymous letter accusing him of taking secret oaths and ”selling his soul” to the “illuminati” who run the ”New World Order”.’

Excuse me?

The only disruption in the proceedings held in Number 10 Practice Court on January the 19th was caused by His Honour Justice Judd when he obviously had a senior’s moment and thought he was a judge on Dancing With The Stars.

His Honour seemed oblivious to any notion of the presumption of innocence and singled out Matt Norman from the packed courtroom to ask him if he’d sent him (the Judge) a letter — a shocking accusation to make in a public courtroom out of the blue, let alone to a litigant in person struggling to represent himself in Court against the legal behemoth and unmitigated bully that is the National Australia Bank.

Norman strenuously denied sending Justice Judd the letter.

The letter has been preposterously described as “menacing” in The Age.

It certainly was not.

Matt Norman

On January 20th, Independent Australia published that same letter in full so that you could all judge for yourselves and we again published it on Tuesday.

Moreover, I was also able to set the record straight on this distortion of what really happened.
I was in court that day supporting Matt and his wife Rebecca, taking notes and filming for my own documentary and investigations as well as filing a report for Independent Australia.

You will note that the so-called ‘menacing’ letter is dated January 13. Matt’s Court appearance was not until six days later.

I fail to understand why His Honour and Supreme Court Security personnel did not immediately contact the police if they thought the letter was ‘menacing’.

What attempt was made to trace the origin of the letter?

Why place the safety of the Judge in jeopardy for almost a week?

It was, in fact, His Honour who ‘disrupted’ the court — not Matt.

And as a specialist in crisis management who, incidentally, had written to the Chief Magistrate several years ago concerned about the lapses in security in our courts, I consider his Honour’s action irresponsible, as well as unconscionable, given that Matt is a litigant in person.

Was it His Honour’s idea to present the letter in court? Or was he advised by court staff to ‘handle’ the letter this way? Was His Honour manipulated in any way by other parties?

All justifiable questions under the circumstances.

If Justice Judd thought Norman sent the letter, why did he seem to have little regard for the safety of the packed courtroom of supporters and single out Norman and challenge him over the letter?

Something’s not quite right here.

I am concerned that the letter may be a concoction sent to the Judge to deliberately besmirch Norman’s character and perhaps to goad him into breaking down.

Whilst in no-way am I suggesting His Honour had anything to do with such a thing, I certainly believe that the Department of Justice should investigate why His Honour ‘disrupted’ the Court in this manner and himself created the ‘incident’.

I also had some questions for journalist Chris Vedelago.

I had confirmed with the award-winning film producer, Matt Norman, that he had invited Chris to attend and that Vedelago indeed was present in Court — so would have been privy to what really happened. Like me and dozens of others, Vedelago would have been able to contradict the report by the Department of Justice.

I was perplexed by the fact that Chris had failed to mention that he was in Court, so I wrote to him and his response shines a spotlight directly on the motive and veracity of the DOJ's so-called 'report.'

Bear in mind that the report writers, whomsoever they are, would have had the benefit of the Court transcript — so their biased version of events casts even more suspicion on this spurious report.

The great thing about speaking truth to power and doing so in the public domain – as we continue to do on  Independent Australia – means that we can share and pool intelligence in the continual struggle for transparency, public accountability and social justice.

On June 6, Rosie Cornell, of the I hate the NAB website wrote in the comments:
It is far too easy to manipulate the truth by leaving out a couple of relevant facts. Having been in the court room in question at the time the letter disturbed proceedings, I am somewhat disturbed at what passes as unbiased reporting in the mainstream media these days. Funny that there was no mention of the threat to Matt and his wife by court security. Well, actually, that isn’t funny at all – it is tragic that we are simply fed this tripe pretending to be news when all it is setting up a victim of NAB fraud to appear in a bad light. No doubt this is all a ploy to discredit Matt before his High Court appearance. I’ve heard of underhanded tactics before but telling only half the story and forgetting to say that there are members of the public threatened by court staff is disingenuous. The truth will out, Matt wasn’t the first to be threatened by those charged with protecting us and he won’t be the last … not until this is revealed in all its ugliness. Hopefully other victims will now step forward and demand to be counted.

On the same day, Dario Pappalardo lent his support for Matt:
 Dear Tess,

we can testify that Matt Norman did not speak to any one from the moment he entered court and sat down next to his wife but was approached by a man of a large displacement whom spoke to Matt approaching him from behind. Matt seemed to be surprised by what was said to him.

Dario Pappalardo

And the next day came this astounding comment from Patricia Thirup:
I attended Matt’s Court Case. I flew down from Sydney. I will happily be a Witness for any Court Case, Inquiry etc. It was very obvious to us all that Matt and his wife were taken by surprise with what happened both with the Security Guard sitting in quite a menacing manner on the side of the Court Room. Wearing no official Court Uniform. In the body language of “Over Kill” and domination of both Matt his wife and the full to capacity Court Room.

The Judge was then to make Comment concerning this letter and this also was obvious to us all listening intently to all that was spoken by the Judge that Matt and his wife had no prior knowledge of what the Judge was saying. I believe that the Judge accepted that Matt had no knowledge of the letter with the immediate response from Matt. Matt was approached by this man wearing no Uniform to indicate position held and given a business card. Totally unprofessional for a Court Room attendant.

When one is taking time to respond normally one is thinking of protecting one self. Matt immediately responded without a thought protection process showing to a full packed Court Room. His denial. It was obvious to us and the Judge that this letter did not originate from him. For a lay person Matt conducted himself in a proper manner and showed ultimate respect to the Court and the Judge residing. Contrary to this the other Legal present for the other side appeared totally disinterested with the whole process. He gave a body language of …really do I have to be here listening to this upstart. Boring Boring.

In contrast the Judge did give time and understanding and listened but also mentioned he had a dental appointment to attend and so time for Matt was limited. So Legal argument must take second place to a dental appointment is this how far the Law of Australia has sunk? Maybe I simply misunderstood.

The law is for the use of everyone and when circumstances are that the person involved can’t afford legal representation is a blight on society itself and the Legal profession in particular.

Instead of dragging innocent people into a Legal System that is not the place where Law Abiding citizens congregate and find it intimidating, certain Court Cases should be dealt with in a totally different manner. The Banks should be more Customer Friendly and improve their Dispute Resolution Procedures. This would then move the Banks into a proactive stance instead of a reactive stance as now happens. This would take these Cases from the brutal bashing and emotional turmoil that occurs to families facing Repossesion Proceedings.

In fact, the Banks should put in place alongside the Federal Government procedures that remove all Court Case for Repossession into a different type of environment - a customer friendly one.

It is wrong so wrong to force people already broken emotionally and financially into the robust world of the Court System. Matt was struggling and obviously out of his comfort zone, but at least trying to put forward a reasonable argument concerning his particular case. I applaud him for this.

This was not his normal working environment and put on a very good respectful showing. I applaud him for this.

Change is required and immediately to stop this carnage of innocent people placed in these positions. Legal should make the first or final push to see these problems dealt with in a different manner. The citizens of Australia demand better from the Government and the Legal Profession and most of all from our Banking Industry.

A personal word to Matt and his family - Customers of all Banks are with you in mind and spirit. I personally will do everything in my power to stop this slaughter house routine displaced daily by the Banking Industry that uses the Court System as their personal throat cutting slaughter house that then cuts up the family unit (marriage break downs) Body, then the home sold (head) and then to go in for bankruptcy and remove every dollar from the Customer and then to allow them to live in shame for a few years. All Other body parts, family and friends to isolate this person so mental problems set in and a burden on our Health Departments emerges. All because the Banking Industry and the Federal Government allow it to happen.  Shame on you all. Deal with it.

The Australian Citizen has woken up and will not tolerate this financial abuse, mental anguish and personal attacks. If a Poll was taken today to ask people Australia wide if they have known a person in Matt’s position there would be a resounding 100% YES.

This is why Banks and this sitting Government has such a low rating with the general public in these surveys. The saying goes …if it is not broken don’t fix it BUT in these Repossession Cases it is BROKEN so FIX IT.

The same day Rosie backed up Patricia's revelations about Justice Judd's remark that he had a pressing dental appointment.
Hi Tess, I can confirm that at the start Judge Judd did say he wanted to move the case to a different court as he had a dental appointment so could only give limited time to hear the case. The old cynicism reared its head on that one – why not adjourn the case? Then that thought battled with the thought that the only reason the good judge had a pressing dental appointment that day was because the gallery was full of witnesses there to support Matt and Rebecca. Can’t do a snow job with witnesses now can we? Yet they still managed to pull it off. Why was Matt’s evidence that the mysterious woman working in the ATM was not in fact a real person and therefore had no legal standing in the case not further probed? The judge asked more questions about that letter than he did about the dodgy Affidavit proffered by Gadens. There is something very, very wrong with our legal system Australia wide a time it was all exposed in its unadulterated ugliness.

I think Patricia is right, take the money men out of the equation and let arbitrators of justice look at the facts impartially in a less threatening environment. Let’s get some integrity, honesty and most of all justice into this system.

I too am willing to bear witness to the events that unfolded that day.

On June 6, my email to Chris Vedelago included:
I am doing a follow up to my article and understand that you were in the Courtroom on January 19 for Matt's case and that you witnessed the so called ' incident when the Court was ' disrupted.'

Can you tell me why you didn't write about what happened in the Court for The Age ?

Or did you write the story and it wasn't published?

Can you tell me why you did not mention that you were in Court on that day, in your article?

Or did you mention it in your original copy and it was cut from the published article?

Given the distortion of what actually happened, in the comments made by the DOJ spokeswoman, how is it that you did not set the facts straight, in your article, and how is it that you did not mentioned the threats made by Spurr to Rebecca and Matt Norman.

I understand that Matt invited you to attend the Court.

Thanks, Chris, and if there is anything else you would like to add, please feel to include - also any other aspects that I have neglected to mention.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="191"] Fairfax reporter Chris Vedelago

On June 7, Chris Vedelago's response included:
The FoI materials released by the DoJ amounted to a 10-page summary document spreadsheet of reported "personal safety incidents" in the Victorian court system for calendar years 2010, 2011 and Q1 of 2012. The materials contained no specific incident dates or incident identifiers (only that it was a "personal safety incident" involving a "Threat (Bomb, Other) / Intimidating Behaviour"). Each line of the spreadsheet identified a single incident by court, location where the threat occurred (lobby, entry, foyer, etc). There were no details on the exact nature of the threat, who made it or it was directed at, or the action taken.

DoJ, Attorney General and court spokespeople repeatedly declined my requests for contextual information about the incidents, citing operational security reasons. They would only provide the generic definition of what constitutes a threat, as I provided in the story. They were unwilling to provide examples of threats or to confirm incidents that I believed might have constituted reported threats. This included the events in the courtroom during Matt Norman's January hearing.

The comments provided by the DoJ spokespeople were printed exactly as they were provided. They refused to comment on any incident, qualifying that only by stating that they were concerned that media coverage drawn to the issues of threats could generate more threats.

 As to your other questions...

 Matt Norman contacted me about his case after reading a story I had written about a proposed lawsuit against the bank sector over lending standards during the GFC. As a result, I came to watch the proceedings. I spoke to Matt after the hearing and contacted court officials about what had transpired but they were unwilling to discuss anything about the letter the judge received or Matt's complaint about the behaviour of the court officer (The copy of the letter mentioned in my story was obtained from Matt's blog). Shortly afterwards, I filed my FoI about security incidents / threats in the Victorian court system. The story last Sunday was the result.

 To be absolutely clear, the story was not cut, dropped or otherwise altered. It was printed as I filed it.

 I'm not sure what you mean by I "did not set the facts straight" in my story.

 This story wasn't about Matt or any other specific case, which was why he was never cited by name. The anonymous letter that was received by the judge was cited in the story as an example of the type of threats sent to the court. I specifically did not mention Matt because I did not wish to imply, suggest or infer that he was responsible for that letter. I felt to identify Matt in the same story as the anonymous letter would be grossly unfair and could accidentally imply some kind of responsibility by proximity.

I appreciate Chris Vedelago's response but, as a reporter and editor, I still don't get why he didn't write about the extraordinary goings on in the hapless Matt Norman versus the Spurr, Gadens, NAB, Justice Judd and his dentist case.

Just because the Court officials refused to comment does not preclude writing a story, as our own story on January 20, 'Justice for the Few' attests.

In fact, their refusal to comment would be part of any story.

And I'd be seeking comment from others. Either way, Chris could have simply documented what he saw and heard.

By any measure, what happened in Court on January 19 was a hard news story and should have been reported in The Age on January 20.

We now have several people who are prepared to testify on Matt Norman's behalf as to what actually took place in Court — myself included.

At the very least, Matt Norman deserves a re-hearing and there needs to be a proper investigation.

We need Chief Justice Marilyn Warren to exercise her powers — if she has any powers left in Victoria's Secret State.

Or do we have to wait for Gina the Rinehart to stake her claim and to ride into Melbourne Town from the Wild West, supplanting the State with her own posse of fly in, fly out judiciary, politicians and media.

The awful reality is: in Victoria, we might be unable to spot any difference.

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