In a mediate danger (Part 2): The Starlight Affair

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If you think bypassing Australia’s court system via mediation is good a way to avoid expense and heart-ache, Ken Flower’s horror story may make you think again. After devastation in Part One, he tries to get his life back together — but is confronted by the very same shadowy network.

[Read Part One.]

[Editor's note: The details in this three part story are all supported by a signed and witnessed statutory declaration, provided to IA.]

In a mediate danger


Starlight ― not so starbright

A few months earlier, I’d been invited by Starlight Childrens' Foundation Australia (director of hospital services Ms Jeanne Rockey AM) to design the lighting environment for a children’s respite room ― a magical place hospitalised children can go to escape the daily rigours of hospital life.

I’d already made a creative pitch to her and the CEO Starlight Ms Jill Weekes and they were very enthusiastic to get me on their team.

So I saw it as the perfect opportunity to do the ‘get on with my life thing’ in an area I felt passionate about. While there was no money to be earned – it being a not for profit – the Starlight CEO pointed out to me that the networking opportunities would more than make up for it. That was more valuable to me at the time, so I agreed to do it all for costs only.

Of course, as it turned out, there were also some strong networking connections between the Board of Starlight and the parties to the mediation. My solicitor, Mallesons partner Katrina Rathie, told me early on in the mediation that she was associated with Starlight and enjoyed a close friendship with the CEO of Starlight Ms Jill Weekes. ABT Precinct managing director Peter Grose was a long term business colleague with the NSW chair of Starlight, Mr Paul Kenny. (Paul Kenny is an influential producer in this same industry. We’d also worked together in the past and also had a shared portfolio of award winning work). Dr Longstaff had recently become a guest presenter of ethics seminars to the Starlight Executive and staff.

These connections had all the potential to be a positive force in the ‘moving on’ stakes. At least, that's what I hoped would happen.

My designs for Starlight were successful beyond expectations ― with both children and carers. I had many emails and phone calls from the staff. This one was particularly lovely:

It’s a visual thing really. Here’s a short 3 min video I made to show others what the installation looks like:

I ended up being asked by Starlight to adapt the designs for two other Starlight rooms in two other major children’s hospitals, all at costs only ― and, of course, it was my pleasure to contribute.

Storm Clouds

I had some concerns that my reputation was still being  trashed ― and that ABT Precinct were not sticking to the commitments given in mediation to put out the reputational fires they had lit.

A reliable source had carried out some professional reference checks on my behalf and had come back with some alarming findings. Namely, that key industry figures had commented privately that it was unlikely I would find work in the industry again as a result of the mediation.

And that was my life, gone. Effectively, I had been blacklisted. Previous colleagues and friends in the industry would shun me; people would cross the street just to avoid me. It was very upsetting to me personally and even more damaging to my family. I went from being a respected member of the community to a pariah. Even now, I have difficulty understanding why or for what.

On one occasion, when I was arranging the installations for Starlight, no Sydney supplier would touch it. Everything ended up having to be produced interstate and brought in – all at additional cost to Starlight.  The NSW Starlight chair (as mentioned, Peter Grose's long term colleague) declined all requests to assist ― even if it meant saving Starlight donor dollars.

On another occasion a senior Starlight director called me up one day - alarmed at some new developments.  She wanted to let me know that the NSW Starlight chair, (Peter Grose’s colleague) was planning to use my Starlight designs for other high profile events without my knowledge. She thought it was morally wrong and that I should know about it.

Starlight Australia CEO, Jill Weekes

And when I asked Jill Weekes, the Starlight CEO (Katrina Rathie’s friend) if she would endorse my references for the work I had done, she became extremely evasive and reluctant.

I wrote to Peter Grose, Katrina Rathie and Dr Longstaff on at least four occasions, to let them know what was going on, how bad it was, how damaging it was, and I ask for their support ― especially to get Peter Grose to stick to his commitments.

ABT Precinct laughed it off, St James Ethics Centre showed me the door and Ms Rathie of Mallesons lawyers didn’t even respond at all.

And so the fires kept burning.

In later secret correspondence to a retired judge, Katrina Rathie (with Dr Longstaff) stated she was unaware of any of this, even thoughthe correspondence is on file on the Mallesons mail server at her email address?

And then it went global

I discussed all this with one of the few people I could trust. He said:

“Look, you have to get away from these people. The (Starlight) work is brilliant; make a video, enter it into a few awards ― you’ll be right."

So I did, and to my great surprise I received an International Award at the prestigious IESNA (Illumination Engineering Society of North America) Award Festival held in New York City. One of only nine in the world to do so.

Click here to see more articles.

My designs then went on to feature in a number of international design magazines and exhibitions. They were also featured in a number of industry seminars throughout USA. And I was invited to exhibit and talk about the work at both IESNA and IALD professional conferences in USA.

I thought I could really move forward. By this time, I had had to sell up anyway; as one door slammed closed, another one appeared to open.

But the reputational damage went global. No one in the Sydney Starlight network would support anything I said or did – no explanations – just silence. It became the elephant in the room.

The following is an example of what was to follow.

I heard from the Starlight founder in USA − a well known Hollywood producer − he’d seen my work for Starlight on YouTube and he personally emailed me to thank me for my vision and to let me know he’d passed my contact details to the Los Angeles CEO at Starlight headquarters for me to follow up. I thought: 'Wow! How good is that?'

And of course, I did follow up. But the Sydney CEO of Starlight declined to respond to the LA CEO’s enquiries about me and my work. And in LA, they were very confused about that ― after all, Sydney was the commissioning office for the projects.

I phoned the current Australian CEO of Starlight to try and make sure my reference was up to date. When I finally got through, there was the implication that someone else had done the work ― I was portrayed as a plagiarist of my own work again.  I was astonished to hear this same tune still being whistled, this time by the CEO of Starlight.

I contacted the Starlight board member I had worked with, Jeanne Rockey, to ask her to clarify with the new CEO that it was in fact me who had designed and carried out the work. She had now retired, but suggested I contact the new national chair, a senior Lawyer in Sydney. He referred me back to the new CEO.

I travelled to LA anyway, hoping Sydney Starlight would honour my references, now they had spoken to both me and their former director ― who would vouch for my work.

The Meeting went very well; they all liked my work, were enthusiastic about my ideas, and talked about incorporating my ideas in other projects throughout the USA.  The LA Starlight CEO even sent me a lovely email saying just that.

I had the offer of an all important supplier network in North America via a US colleague – an industry icon and IESNA fellow − so that box was ticked too.

However, as it turned out, Starlight Los Angeles could not ignore the silence from the commissioning office here in Sydney. And who could blame them? Sometimes, silence is the most potent corporate communication.

I could not understand why Starlight would act like this, especially given I had not charged for the work and it had been extremely successful with the children and carers alike.

My estranged solicitor Katrina Rathie later became a national board member of the Australian Starlight Foundation ― and Mallesons a major sponsor.

The hydra looked to have grown another head ― Big Charity.

The Surgeons Club

I’ve always believed that right will prevail and the checks and balances in our society will always favour truth over lies. Some may say that’s naive ― but it keeps me going.

Lies eventually come apart because they are so hard to maintain. Whereas truth is easy.

When it became apparent that ABT Precinct’s commitments in the mediation were not worth anything and that neither my solicitor nor the mediator were going to do anything about it, I contacted the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia (IAMA, now the Australian Disputes Centre) to enquire about what might be considered acceptable conduct in a mediation.

I wrote out a short synopsis of my mediation experience and sent it off to them. No names were mentioned, but other details were: police threats in mediation, solicitor resigning, phone calls, and breach of confidence.

A senior IAMA national councillor, having considered my material, commented it was the worst mediation conduct she’d ever heard of – completely unacceptable – and that it. 

‘...raised a number of serious questions concerning the professional conduct of both the mediator and the attendant solicitors’.

Her advice was to contact the mediator Dr Longstaff, discuss the content of my synopsis, bring him up to date and see if he would help fix it.

At a meeting held at St James Ethics Centre headquarters, Dr Longstaff discussed all our concerns with the mediation conduct. He retained a copy of the synopsis without any challenge to its content at all; the Police threats, resignations, breach of confidence ― all were ticked off. I’d been expecting some justification or argument as to factual accuracy ― there was none. I minuted the meeting for reference and have the contemporaneous notes on file.

He agreed it was a terrible state of affairs and made some suggestions how he could fix it.

Unfortunately, Dr Longstaff was just as ineffective in fixing this situation as he had been in the mediation. Indeed, he made it worse, eventually insulting me in an email containing false accusations.

My IAMA advisor had been monitoring the email traffic and was horrified at Dr Longstaff’s insulting email and the poor level of management it displayed.

She suggested, advised and helped me to write to the well known retired Judge Trevor Morling QC, who is the Chairman of the Australian Commercial Dispute Centre (ACDC). Of course, Dr Longstaff is also strongly associated with the ACDC as Chairman of its mediation accreditation board. The letter to Trevor Morling asked if he could help mediate with Dr Longstaff and get him to fix this.

Trevor Morling was very gracious when we went to meet with him. He commented that, as far as he was concerned, Dr Longstaff was not a proper mediator and that if it was him he would have fixed this. He then suggested he would mediate it.

Unfortunately, the next day, Trevor Morling discovered he had a conflict of interest and had to withdraw.

Trevor Morling directed me to LEADR to find an appropriate mediator (Lawyers Engaged in Alternate Dispute Resolution). LEADR commented wryly: 

It’s like the surgeon’s club – no one is going to take this one on’.

And that was my experience.

Eventually, the chair of IAMA, Peter Callaghan SC agreed to mediate – and a date was set to meet up at IAMA HQ. However, on the day, Dr Longstaff just pitched up and refused to participate. He cited the confidentiality of mediation content, whereas the topic was about the mediation conduct, which is not covered by confidentiality at all.

But that was it, all over rover in ten minutes flat.

I later found out − surprise, surprise − Dr Longstaff had just been IAMA’s guest speaker at their Christmas party. His topic: ethics in mediation...

According to the proper procedure, the next step for us was to lodge a formal complaint with both the ACDC board and St James Ethics Centre board. Both organisations are required to have proper and transparent complaint management procedures. They know a thing or two about them, as they write the guidelines for government and corporate procedures.

Tomorrow Ken Flower concludes this important series.

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